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The University Art Museum and Interdisciplinary Faculty Collaboration

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posted on 26.06.2013, 12:54 by Barbara Ann Rothermel
The university art museum can make a significant contribution to the academic and cultural life of the parent institution. While there are many roles of art museums within institutions of higher education, there is a common thread -- the conviction that interdisciplinary exhibitions and programs expand the relevance of the art museum within the academic community. In this study, I examine interdisciplinary collaborations between the university art museum and faculty from diverse academic disciplines at American institutions of higher education. What relationships, if any, exist between academic programs and art museums at universities? What institutional structures are keys and barriers to successful collaboration between the university art museum and academic programs? What factors determine the success of interdisciplinary collaboration between the university art museum and diverse academic programs? In order to fully explore the possibilities of interdisciplinary collaboration, qualitative analysis of current initiatives at university art museums throughout the United States was necessary. The conceptual framework of interdisciplinary exhibitions and programs is thus established. Secondly, case studies examine the organizational culture of the institutions and challenges of interdisciplinary collaboration at the University of Virginia Art Museum, the Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art of Art at the University of Richmond, and the Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College. As well, my professional experience, through a retrospective account of projects at the Daura Gallery at Lynchburg College, provides insights into both the potential and process of interdisciplinary collaboration. While I am mindful that this informs my conviction that interdisciplinarity and collaborative practice is essential to the university art museum, the partiality that existed at the onset of the study was recognized and subjected to a rigorous research and methodology that imparts validity and authenticity to this inquiry. While the “publish or perish” convention of the academy supports discipline-specific research and individual publication, I contend that the university art museum must engage in interdisciplinary dialogue through which perceptions are changed and new meanings are unveiled while respecting the integrity of the disciplines involved. This study of institution-wide interdisciplinary collaboration between university art museums and the academic institutions of which they are part reveals what is being done through innovative exhibitions and programming to promote the interconnectedness of ideas and issues. Collaboration with diverse academic disciplines reaffirms the traditional expectations of the museum of investigation, inquiry, and intellectual challenge. Purposive exhibitions grounded in collaboration between academic disciplines can generate debate, critique, and conversation. In doing so, the university art museum is an indispensable component of the university’s mission and asserts its relevance to the institution and its role in the educational experience through collaboration between the university’s academic programs and the university art museum.



MacLeod, Suzanne; Sandell, Richard

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University of Leicester

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