There's no real right answer. We're just here to learn from each other and have a conversation. I think framing it to be an inclusive space where we can all talk is what's unique about a university museum.Emily Normand, recent graduate in the Duke's Master of Theological Studies program, former graduate teaching assistant at the Nasher Museum, and currently the Lily Fellow for Spirituality in the Arts at the Raclin-Murphy Museum at Notre Dame
Emily Normand likes to ask student visitors what they think about the layout of the Nasher Museum’s building. What about the lack of a grand marble staircase? What about galleries spread out in three separate pavilions?
“I would love for them to have one takeaway: The Nasher is unique among museums. You sort of choose your own path,” she said. “You can choose your own journey, create your own adventure. What message does that send, that we have an ‘Art of Peru’ installation and not ‘ancient art of Peru’ installation, for example?”
This spring, while working on a master’s degree in theological studies at Duke, Emily found about 5-10 hours a week to spend at the Nasher Museum as a graduate teaching assistant. She led undergraduate students on dozens of tours through the galleries. She also spent several days in February painting topographical lines in sepia and red colors on a gallery wall (with three other students) to help create “From a Garden of Hope” by Annalee Davis within Spirit in the Land.
In leading student tour groups, Emily’s main goal is to spark their creativity.
I'm not spitting facts at them; that's not the point. It's for us to learn together and for them to make connection to their own discipline and hopefully to walk away and think, ‘Oh maybe I'll come back.’Emily Normand
Emily was fascinated by one group of students from Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment—especially their reaction to Bad Lemon (Persephone), a 2020 sculpture by Kathleen Ryan. The 18-inch work is studded with hundreds of pieces of turquoise, smoky quartz, tiger eye and many other gemstones.
“The group identified eight different species of fungi on this,” she said, “and they were just so jazzed about it.”
Emily came to Duke from Redding, California, and earned a bachelor’s degree at Notre Dame University. She first approached the museum’s Academic Initiatives department for a teaching assistantship last year, after she visited a small installation co-curated by students, Jean Charlot: Visions of Mexico, 1933. The exhibition investigated Charlot’s relationship to Mexico’s Indigenous past and its colonial legacy. Charlot’s lithographs were installed alongside prints by Posada and sculpture from the museum’s Art of the Americas collection.
Her favorite part of her work at the museum is getting students outside of the classroom.
“You get students to connect to real people, real life, culture—especially at a contemporary art museum. The artists are alive! These are experiences that artists have, that are reflected creatively in the work. It’s important to have those sorts of hands-on experiences that are conversations outside of the classroom—where you really deepen what’s happening inside of the classroom.”