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From Films to Yoga to Special Lectures

By Steven Dawson

Image: Andrea Way, Voice, 1988. Ink on paper. 36 x 51 in. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Image: Andrea Way, Voice, 1988. Ink on paper. 36 x 51 in. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

The American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center has initiated new programs designed to give visitors an even deeper experience of exhibits and enjoyment of the museum space itself.

One such program is the Katzen Cinema Series. As exhibitions change, the museum will show films that relate to the artwork on display. For example, on February 6, the museum will screen part 3 of The Face of Russia miniseries. The museum staff chose the final episode of the series because it particularly provides cultural and historical context to the work of the two Russian artists being exhibited, Andrei Molodkin and Grisha Bruskin. The AU Museum will also show Women Art Revolution by Lynn Hershman Leeson in March as part of Women’s History Month.

“These are great documentaries,” says Katherine MacDiarmid, assistant director of the AU Museum. “And we are showing them in the gallery space to provide context to the exhibitions in the museum.”

Special lectures have also been added this year. The AU Museum already has gallery talks, where the artist and curator talk specifically about the works. However, these new lectures will take one aspect of the artists’ work and correlate it with someone’s work from outside the field. One lecture will be on the subject of math and art, and another will discuss art and neuroscience in a partnership program with the AU Arts Management Program.

“We are working to connect other departments on campus into the lecture series,” says MacDiarmid, “because art really touches so many aspects of everyday life. We want to engage new audiences and expose them to the art that is in the gallery, but at the same time have it connected in a way that is interesting and even comfortable. There is a direct correlation between the artists’ work and other topics, whether it’s math or neuroscience or music, depending on the exhibition. It is a means to enhance the experience for the visitor.”

A third new program is the Yoga in the Galleries series, which will start in conjunction with the work of Andrea Way. A certified yoga instructor will lead multiple classes throughout the semester inside the museum galleries, connecting meditation with the art. “The jumping-off point started with Andrea Way, who has done yoga for many years,” MacDiarmid explains. “Her process is very meditative and you can see it in her work.”

There will also be some exclusive programs for AU Museum members, such as a guided tour of the museum with museum director and curator Jack Rasmussen.

The AU Museum has installed a new patron feedback system as well, and the staff will use the results to improve programs over time. MacDiarmid describes the system.

“When you visit the museum, you will see an iPad on each floor, and it will ask you to fill out a brief touch survey to give us feedback on what we are doing. Is it successful? Do you want to see more? Will you come back again? That is part of the process for us to evaluate what we are doing, how we are doing it, and how it can be done better to reach more people.”

These programs were designed to achieve two goals for the museum. First, since the museum is located on a university campus, is the educational goal, which these programs help to meet. Second is the goal of engaging with the public.

“We are establishing programs that will engage, enrich, and inspire the students and the community that surrounds AU and the metro D.C. area,” says MacDiarmid. “With these programs in place, we hope visitors will walk away with a new perspective on the art they have just seen, and that they will come back again. There is always going to be the need and the desire to engage our visitors and make the experience fulfilling for them; not just to come in and look at something, but to be able to come in and see the different layers that exist within the art.”

“And I think that is what is important, the idea that the arts always exist to engage the public and to get them involved. There is the dialogue that happens between the artwork and the patron, but at the same time, there needs to be some education that happens. You could come in and look at a painting, and it could be beautiful. But there are so many layers that come into that painting. There is context, there is form, and there is theory. And we hope to be able to provide that to our visitors.”

For more information about the new programs at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, and for a calendar of events, visit the museum’s website.