- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

Staff writer Denise Barnes interviewed Marta Reid Stewart, director of the museum studies department at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

Q: I understand Duke Ellington School of the Arts has the only museum studies department on the high school level in the country. How did the program come about?
A: In the early 1990s arts activist and co-founder of Duke Ellington Peggy Cooper Cafritz served as co-chairman of the Smithsonian Institution's Cultural Equity Committee. Mrs. Cafritz noticed a lack of diversity in the institution's ranks. And, while it was true of the Smithsonian's 6,000 employees roughly 32 percent were African Amerrican, 3 percent Latino, 3 percent Asian and 1 percent American Indian minorities comprised a low percentage of the institutions' curators, designers, educators and directors.
The Smithsonian's human resource department determined there were not enough people of color applying for these positions. So, Mrs. Cafritz came up with the idea to include a museum studies program at Ellington to help increase the opportunities for minorities to become key players in the museum field.
Q: Washington, D.C., is a fertile ground for museum work. How is the museum studies program helping students break into the field?
A: For the past two years, our juniors and seniors have participated in the National Gallery of Art's "Odyssey into Museum Careers for High School Students." For eight days in June students get a bird's-eye view of what goes on behind the scenes in a museum. Students shadow museum professionals from 8 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., and they document their experiences in journals and on videos. I'm proud to say students who have participated in "Odyssey" have excelled to the point where each year the coordinator of the program, Cheryl Foster, requests that I submit names of applicants.
Since 1993, we've offered internships for seniors at various Smithsonian museums. The internships begin in January and end in May. For two days each week students work on specific museum projects. To date we've had roughly 50 students participate in the internship program.
And I see the tremendous value of the internships because they're getting the hands-on experience they need. Students are required to keep a journal which documents their objectives, as well as subjective points of view of their experiences on a daily basis. Students are graded based on the their site supervisor's input and my observations of their journal entries.
Q: How do you know the museum studies program is stimulating interest in high school students to pursue the field on a college level?
A: Two years ago, I conducted a survey to determine how many students in the program were considering museum work as a career. Eighty percent said they were strongly considering this field of study. It's interesting because a program like this encompasses not only the arts, but gives them lessons in time management, teamwork and meeting their goals. They also learn to write with any museum comes some type of publication. So, students get hands-on experience in creating the text for exhibitions, writing and designing a variety of brochures and tackling a full catalogue with biographies and checklists.
We offer a course called "Museum Communications I" that teaches students how to speak spontaneously and as a result they learn the art of public speaking. So, much of museum studies can translate into a variety of different fields.
Q: Who developed the curriculum?
A: I came up with the course of study, and of course I kept in mind the developmental level of high school students and a desire to teach to the various functions of a museum.
At the same time, I wanted to give students a firm knowledge base in the subject areas most often affiliated with museums, which are art, history and science.
First-year students take "Introduction to Museum Studies", which teaches the history of museums and architecture, as well as an overview of the functions of a museum. Then there's a course called, "Introduction to Photography," where they learn how to take aesthetically pleasing pictures with a focus on composition, but they also learn how to photograph museum objects as well as installations.
Naturally, I thought about the skills that make a good museum professional while developing the curriculum. There's no doubt being smart and possessing a good personality is a plus, but you need a sense of creativity and imagination that's what makes a consummate museum professional in my opinion.
Q: What's going at the Ellington Gallery?
A:Well, we recently ended our season on a high note with "Mixed Messages," an exhibit of art by well-known and emerging artists from the Washington, D.C. area. The exhibit, which opened in March, focused on the messages behind the art. Unlike most exhibits, the artists revealed their thinking or the idea they were depicting in their representations. The artists' candor really helped people say 'I get it.' The messages were simple some were about religion, war, injustice, politics and traditions.
We exhibited the work of the late artist and sculptor Ed Love, who taught both at Ellington and at Howard University for 18 years. We displayed his 1996 sculpture "Basquiat's Door." Another piece that got lots of attention was a 40-by-25-inch fabric collage called "Dancer" by artist Joan Foster, a former teacher at Georgetown Day. Michael Harris' assemblage pieces three dimensional works that incorporate photography, printed and written word, and found objects, were a part of the "Mixed Messages" exhibit. The three pieces from his 2000 "Rosewood Series," served several purposes. Mr. Harris' artwork fit very well into the social studies and English classes here at Ellington since his work addressed events such as the 1923 Rosewood, Fla., riot and the Tulsa, Okla., riot of 1921. We have teachers here who use our exhibits as a springboard for further discussions in their academic disciplines. It was a great show, which closed [last] Friday.
This year, we organized four exhibitions in the gallery. Next year, we're going to follow a similar pattern with a D.C. Teachers Exhibit teachers who are also artists will be the focal point of the juried exhibit. We will also have an alum show that's something we started this year. A graduate of Ellington will be selected to do a one-man show.
One of the things I would like to do in the future is exhibit a nationally known artist whose artwork and perspective exemplify what we value here at Ellington. It would probably be an artist who is a teacher, whose body of work is multifaceted, and one who is committed to service.
Q: What are your hopes for the future of the gallery?
A: The gallery was established in the mid-1970s, and at the time, the Visual Arts Department had oversight of the gallery. Two years ago, I became the director and the Museum Studies Department took over the direction of the Ellington Gallery. It's my dream to make the gallery an accredited museum that has a permanent collection, a professional staff to maintain the collection and to exhibit our collection on a regular basis to an audience.
At this point, we have a partial collection. We were able to obtain a maquette of the "Duke Ellington Memorial" that's in Central Park by sculptor Robert Graham. We secured the piece when we exhibited the "We Love You Madly: Duke Ellington," exhibition in 1999 here at the school. It's a replica on a much smaller scale of the 25-foot-tall sculpture in New York City. It was a gracious gift by Mr. Graham, whose work can be seen on the grounds of the FDR Memorial.
We also have a piece by African American sculptor Selma Burke, who created the portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt which appears on the Roosevelt dime. Dr. Burke, who died in 1995, sculpted a bust of Duke Ellington that's a part of our permanent collection. So, it's my fondest hope we will continue to build our permanent collection and be able to exhibit on a regular basis.
For further information about Ellington's museum studies program go to www.musestudy.org.

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