Skip to main content

They did not expect their class to become a museum within a museum.

Duke senior and co-curator of the exhibition, Ashleigh Smith, considers works of art for the exhibition checklist. Photo by J Caldwell.
Duke senior and co-curator of the exhibition, Ashleigh Smith, considers works of art for the exhibition checklist. Photo by J Caldwell.

Seven seniors knew from the course description that a class, Curatorial Practicum: Exhibition Development and Design, would give them the opportunity to organize an exhibition at the Nasher Museum. They did not expect their class to become a museum within a museum.

Each student took on a different role, becoming one-person departments just like a real art museum—curatorial, marketing, K-12 education, technology, exhibition design, academic initiatives and project management. The process was a lot more involved than developing a checklist.

I realized that there’s just way more to building a show than just what is on the wall and where it comes from.

Ashleigh Smith, Duke senior and co-curator of the exhibition

The students developed programs to complement the exhibition, including a meet-up with the Nasher Teen Council and a drumming circle by a local Afro-Peruvian artist to take place in the Nasher’s new Sculpture Garden. They wrote all the labels and spent weeks tinkering with the title and curatorial statement for their exhibition, Cultures of the Sea: Art of the Ancient  Americas.

Kora Kwok said he had underestimated the amount of work it takes to choose which works of art should be included.

… It’s a fine balance between having the right number of items and choosing the ones that you really feel like belong in the exhibition.

Kora Kwok, Duke senior and co-curator of the exhibition
Duke seniors gather in study storage to discuss aspects of the exhibition that they will organize as part of their Curatorial Practicum class.
Duke seniors gather in study storage to discuss aspects of the exhibition that they organized as part of their Curatorial Practicum class. Photo by J Caldwell.

Edward Zhuang used the Cultures of the Sea exhibition in his fall computer science class, and the two classes informed each other, he said. He and his team developed an iPad app to bring more context to the exhibition as a tool for educators and tour guides. “It’s really great and unique,” Edward said, “that I get to see this exhibition from two sides.

Rae Hsu said the process of locating objects in the museum’s storage areas surprised her. The exhibition features ceramics, textiles and carvings from the museum’s permanent collection, many on view for the first time. Each week, Julia McHugh, Ph.D., Trent A. Carmichael Curator of Academic Initiatives, would share a new discovery with the class. In the back of storage, she found three ancient Peruvian paddles, which became a centerpiece of the exhibition.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

The health and safety of our community is our top priority. In accordance with Duke University, the museum is closed to visitors until further notice. The café and store are closed. Find updates and the latest information on Duke’s Coronavirus Response website.