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360 Learning: Professor Recruits Students to Work on Museum Exhibition

By Elizabeth Komoroski

Maggie Stogner on location for her latest interactive museum project, Roads of Arabia,  in Saudi Arabia

Maggie Stogner on location for her latest interactive museum project, Roads of Arabia, in Saudi Arabia

Maggie Burnette Stogner loves a challenge. When the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer/Sackler Gallery approached the School of Communication professor to produce films for a new traveling exhibition, Roads of Arabia, they knew they were consulting with a top industry professional.

Produced in conjunction with the Saudi Commission of Antiquities and Tourism and premiering in the U.S. at the Freer/Sackler Gallery, the exhibition offers an eye-opening look at the largely unknown cultural history of the Arabian Peninsula. It displays over 300 artifacts, and draws on recently discovered archaeological material never before seen in North America.

Stogner knew documenting the largely unknown pre-Islamic and Islamic history would be a challenge. “The pieces of the puzzle are just beginning to fall into place.” she says. The trickiest part of it all, she added, was “trying to make accessible 6,000 years of history to a general audience in a short introductory video. It’s the haiku of filmmaking.”

As part of the design team, Stogner had the opportunity to travel to different ancient ruins in Saudi Arabia so that she could produce, direct and write films with detailed accuracy. “You could feel the history. These ancient ruins of Saudi Arabia go back thousands of years,” she explains.

Stogner recruited several students and alums of SOC’s Film and Media Arts graduate program to assist in the making of Roads of Arabia. Aditi Desai (MFA '11) says, "Even before I knew Maggie I wanted to work with her. She is an explorer. She is a successful woman in the industry who is running her own business,” she recalls, “I first worked with Maggie as Production Assistant and now as an Associate Producer. It’s a supportive role, and very exciting- I get to do a lot of different kinds of things.”

Elizabeth Linares (MFA ’15), a Roads of Arabia Production Assistant, says that Stogner’s inclusion of students in her work gives them a “chance to see how their professors perform and interact in real life production situations, which really drives home and expands what is taught in the classroom.”

Stoger was pleased to work with so many former and current SOC students. “Most students have never worked on museum exhibition films before,” she says, “and it's a joy to see students who were taking my production courses several years ago evolve into talented filmmakers, and to watch the newest students be inspired by them."

Since its release, the exhibit has received a great deal of positive press. Virgin Airlines recently picked up Stogner’s exhibition trailer for in-flight distribution.

Professor Stogner is founder of Blue Bear Films, which specializes in documentary films and immersive storytelling techniques. The exhibit is open in Washington D.C. until February 24, and then travels to Houston, Chicago, and San Francisco. For more information, go to