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The Spencer Museum of Art’s IARI Inaugural Colloquium

  • November 30, 2016
  • By Edgar Cardenas, PhD     
The Spencer Museum of Art recently finished renovating their space and have been rethinking the role of the museum and arts in the university. As part of this rethinking, the Spencer Museum applied for and received a grant from the Mellon Foundation for an Integrated Arts Research Initiative (IARI). The Museum is using this grant to integrate the arts and research culture at the University of Kansas (KU). They are making an effort to integrate ideas and methodologies embodied in the arts with those in other research spaces. I was invited to participate in and present at their inaugural IARI Colloquium on October 18.  I arrived a day early to get a better understanding around what arts integrative work the Spencer Museum of Art was involved in. What follows is a journaling of my experience from my time there.
Polar Bear

Emily Ryan was kind enough to open up the famous KU Natural History Museum so I could see their Panorama of North American Wildlife. This polar bear on a very small chunk of ice was quite fitting.

The IARI Inaugural Colloquium was set up to bring together faculty from around the campus to begin reconceptualizing how the museum can serve as a boundary organization that brings together faculty and ideas together from different disciplines. Most of the participants were from the University of Kansas, the only outside participants were Peggy Levitt (Luella LaMer Slaner Professor in Latin American Studies; Professor of Sociology), Joey Orr (Mellon postdoctoral fellow Museum Contemporary Art Chicago, incoming IARI asst. curator for research), and I. Peggy was brought in to discuss her latest book Artifacts and Allegiances: How Museums Put the Nation and the World on Display. Joey will be joining the Spencer Museum in January and focuses on research and the arts. I was brought in because I’m the a2ru Mellon Postdoc, my dissertation research on artist-scientist collaborations, and my own practice as a researcher and artist. 
 
The day I arrived I met with Celka Straughn (Andrew W. Mellon Director of Academic Programs) to discuss my role in the colloquium. Rajat Shanbhag (Integrated Arts Research Initiative grad fellow; mechanical engineering), showed me around the museum and I met with Stephen Goddard (Associate Director/Senior Curator, Works on Paper) and Kate Meyer (Curator, Works on Paper). They took me to the paper archives and we discussed two new classrooms that were added to the museum. In addition to having faculty conduct research, the Stephen H. Goddard Study Center lets faculty hold classes in the space. When I was there, they were preparing for a course on capitalism and resource use, and another on imagery before digital. 
 
They curated a selection of images that would help spark dialogue on the connections between culture, business, and new media. I then met with Emily Ryan (director, The Commons at KU) who runs “a space where both faculty and visiting scholars present work to spark dialogues across disciplines.” They also provide faculty with seed funding for interdisciplinary projects. We discussed obstacles, assumptions, and potential solutions to reframing how they identify success and can increase participation.
 
I went to dinner with Kris Ercums (curator of global contemporary and Asian art), Rohini Devasher (artist-in-residence), Sahej Rahel (artist-in-residence), Saralyn Reece Hardy (director, Spencer Museum of Art), and Joey where we discussed the intersections of the arts with other disciplines, the role of museums in this discourse, and how research is articulated in the arts. 
 
Tuesday we had these discussions with a broader group of participants and I presented on the SPARC project, a2ru, and my dissertation research. We worked in small groups as well where we further worked through the intersections of disciplines and the role of the museum in facilitating these types of interactions.  
 
I went to dinner with the Peggy, the Spencer Museum staff, the sociology department, and Carl W. Lejuez (Dean, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences), and continued conversations that arose in the colloquium. We returned to the Spencer Museum to hear Peggy speak about her new book. 
Wednesday morning I met with Megan Kaminski (English/Integrated Arts Research Initiative faculty research fellow), and Polo Camacho (Integrated Arts Research Initiative grad fellow; philosophy). Both of them intersect biology with the arts so we discussed the connections between practices, philosophy of science, and science technology studies ideas in understanding how disciplines can come together. Peggy and I shared a cab back to the airport so we had about an hour to further discuss museum identity, curatorial practices, and how these variables affect community identity. 
 
The Spencer Museum of Art has so many exciting initiatives, but more importantly, many thoughtful, open, and energetic people that are working hard to make integrative work happen. They are reimagining the role of the museum in contemporary culture, not only by making museums a more open place, but by articulating how artistic and scientific rigor can intersect and provide value for the broader public.

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