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MICA's Educators Creating Curatorial Connections

Faculty, Staff Explore Dual Role of Educator, Visual Artist Through Exhibitions

Posted 11.01.10 by MICA Communications

Exhibitions are an educational medium--a tool for disseminating ideas, as well as appreciation of art and design. 

At Freedom's Door: Challenging Slavery in Maryland

Highly regarded both as educators and award-winning artists and designers, MICA's faculty and staff are shaping the next generation of creative thinkers, helping them hone their vision and work, and developing their professional focus. This dual role of educator and visual artist is more than enough to round out both their professional experience and their schedules. Yet MICA's educators continue to impact both their students and the world of art and design in different ways-including acting as curators of highly regarded exhibitions with local, national, and international impact, or using their experience to forge new connections between artists and their audience.

The College's curator-in-residence, George Ciscle, is using his wealth of experience to pursue a unique mission at MICA. Both founder of MICA's Exhibition Development Seminar (EDS) and Baltimore's Contemporary Museum, he has mounted and guided groundbreaking exhibitions throughout his career. In his current role, Ciscle has created a series of academic programs-including EDS, the undergraduate concentration in curatorial studies, and the new MFA in Curatorial Practice-that seek to expand the definition of curatorial practice and to bring new audiences to visual art.

"Before coming to MICA, I curated shows at the Contemporary and at my own gallery. Now, I think of myself as curating academic programs," he explained. "I look at how curatorial practice connects to everyday lives outside of the college, and each of these educational initiatives work to expand the audience for art, within and beyond the MICA community."

Ciscle has created an atmosphere where students are self-directed as they develop exhibitions. In EDS, students research, plan, and produce a major exhibition each year; Bearing Witness: Work by Bradley McCallum & Jacqueline Tarry, a mid-career survey of work by those artists, ran through July of this year and was taught by faculty member Jennie Hirsh. Past exhibitions include At Freedom's Door: Challenging Slavery in Maryland, which examined the state's relationship to the nation's history of slavery, and Situated Realities: Where Technology and Imagination Intersect, which traveled to Minneapolis College of Art and Design and Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, after its run at MICA. This year's EDS, taught by Dan D'Oca, will explore how Baltimore is or is not an accessible, open city.

Ciscle said both the seminar and the concentration in curatorial studies offer students important experience as they prepare to become professionals.

"Many of the students in EDS and the concentration go on to curate professionally, but the majority become practicing artists, designers, and educators. They all benefit from their experience, because beyond the insider's look at the curatorial process, they get exposed to who is experiencing their work. If they become a painter, they think about who is looking at their painting and what are they thinking about it. They think beyond critics or fellow artists to the other 95% of the world, and will try to connect to them."

Ellen Lupton, director of MICA's MFA in Graphic Design program since 2003, is a renowned designer and writer with an equally regarded reputation as a curator. In addition to her role as an educator, Lupton spends time as the contemporary design curator at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York, one of the few existing design curatorships in the country.

For the past decade, she has joined with four other curators to mount Cooper Union's National Design Triennial, which presents innovative design at the center of contemporary culture. The fourth exhibition in the series, Why Design Now?, explores the work of designers addressing human and environmental issues across many fields, from architecture to fashion, graphics to landscapes. The Triennial runs through Sunday, January 9, 2011.

"Producing these exhibitions keeps me connected with the professional community as well as the amazing community of scholars at Cooper-Hewitt," Lupton said, and added, "exhibitions are an educational medium-a tool for disseminating ideas, as well as appreciation of art and design. Because techniques of clear exposition and communicating directly through visual examples are essential to good design, they are also a key part of my teaching at MICA."

Gerald Ross further showcases MICA's depth in the curatorial field. As director of exhibitions, Ross manages more than 100 exhibitions a year, playing a vital role in the student experience and in the College's reputation as an important cultural resource. He has curated shows at School 33 and on MICA's campus, including ClArK, an exhibition of works by Canadian artist David Clark in 2005, and the 2006 exhibition, Exodus, Revelation and Reality, which featured works by Willie Birch '73 that were created during a nine-week teaching residency on campus.

In 2009, he was lead curator for the EDS exhibition Follies, Predicaments, and Other Conundrums: The Works of Laure Drogoul, a highly regarded retrospective named Best Solo Show by City Paper's Best of Baltimore issue and listed as the No. 1 show of the year in the same paper's Top Ten edition. And starting on Thursday, December 9, The Narcissism of Minor Differences, an exhibition showcasing 17 acclaimed artists co-curated by Ross, opens on MICA's campus.

Image credit: MICA Curator-in-Residence George Ciscle works with students in the Exhibition Development Seminar class to hang At Freedom's Door: Challenging Slavery in Maryland, an exhibition done in partnership with the Maryland Historical Society and Reginald F. Lewis Museum.