*Within the disability community today, some may prefer identity-first language (e.g., “disabled person”), or person-first language (e.g., “person with a disability”). Because the curators do not know the preferences of the historical subjects in the “Functional Fashions” display, they chose to use identity-first language based on the recommendations of collaborators.
The mistaken belief that there is no history of clothing designs for disabled users has had a number of repercussions. Among them: nearly all designers treat their own iterations as inaugural, there has been a dearth of innovation as designs are continuously repeated, and disability-led innovation is written out of the historical record . Not only is there a long history of clothing designed by and for disabled persons, but in some cases it sets a higher standard than the efforts that followed. “Functional Fashions,” a display in the 20th- and 21st-Century Design Galleries at the Milwaukee Art Museum, introduces the largest collaborative clothing line for disabled persons in American history.
Installation view, “Functional Fashions,” Milwaukee Art Musuem, 2019.
Much like our curators, the Museum’s archivists typically work behind-the-scenes. However, on October 2, in honor of Ask An Archivist Day, our social media followers were able to learn more about archival work and get a peek inside the daily lives of our on-site archivists. Check out some of the questions and responses below!
What training do you have? How did this become a career for you?
“My educational background includes a Masters in Information Studies and a Masters in Public History among several other related studies, certificates, and work experiences. With the rapid growth of information, data management has become a vital part of the Museum’s ability to document and manage its extraordinary collections and its everyday business activities. With my past studies in history and art, libraries and archives became a natural draw where I could apply my knowledge and skills to assist others.” –Heather Winter, Librarian/Archivist
“The move to the Downer mansion in 2017 more than doubled the Museum’s original archive and library space. The larger space has enabled us to work one-on-one with researchers, authors, students, and staff, and provide behind-the-scenes tours to classes, support groups, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and more. Materials are housed at both the Downer mansion, for more typical day-to-day inquires, and also at the Milwaukee Art Museum for rarer materials.” –Heather Winter, Librarian/Archivist
What is a typical workday like?
“As the Museum’s media archivist, I fulfill daily staff requests for digital images and audio/video for various projects and press/social media. I am also constantly digitizing old media formats in our archive collections for digital access internally and online, along with maintaining and updating the information, or metadata, that describes these digital files that we create. While very time consuming, it allows us to be able to search for media when we need it, which enhances the stories of the objects in our Collection, and to tell the history of the Museum from its earliest beginnings to the present day.” –Beret Balestrieri Kohn, Media Archivist
How often do you collaborate with others during the day, and how often do you work alone?
“Our work in the library/archives is fascinating and no two days are alike! Some days we may be cataloging/archiving books or one-of-a-kind materials, and other days are spent working with researchers, staff, or students on their projects. Every day I feel like I am learning new things about the collections and Museum’s history, and I am thrilled we can share that information to help others move their own projects forward.” –Heather Winter, Librarian/Archivist
What’s the most difficult aspect of your job?
“In the archives, every day is different, which is both refreshing but also challenging. Each new request allows us to delve into a facet of the Museum’s history we often have not had a chance to visit, and we do get a bit distracted now and again winding down the threads of artists and events that have passed throughout the decades. We learn so much so quickly but often don’t have the time to indulge in the details as there is always a new request around the corner, changing our focus. It’s really a happy difficulty to have.” –Beret Balestrieri Kohn, Media Archivist
If you could choose any piece from the archives to display, what would it be?
“I am a big fan of the Brooks Stevens archive material. Some of my favorites are the early iterations of the Wienermobile. There are so many amazing designs in his collection, here’s a snapshot.” –Heather Winter, Librarian/Archivist
How does one become qualified to be an archivist?
“In the fast-paced information world, more archivists are definitely needed! We are lucky enough to have several excellent university archive programs near. If interested, be sure to look into the School of Information Studies at UW-Milwaukee and the Information School at UW-Madison.” –Heather Winter, Librarian/Archivist
You see the exhibitions and the beautiful works of art in our galleries, but how often do you see the people who, through careful thought, research, and planning, helped bring them here?
Much of a curator’s work takes place behind-the-scenes, and most Museum visitors only get to see the final products—new art acquisitions and stunning exhibitions. But on September 18, 2019, in honor of International #AskACurator Day, we encouraged our social media followers to ask our curators anything! Check out some of the questions and responses below.
How did you start your career in the art field? Always a curator or did you dabble first?
“I dabbled in painting as a child and teen, but even then it was obvious my talents were in analysis rather than practice. I actually majored in history as an undergraduate, but fell back in love with art and with museums, and went to graduate school for art history and museum studies. During that time, I did many internships and practicums and through those opportunities, finally landed my first job as a curator.” –Brandon Ruud, Abert Family Curator of American Art
What work of art started your passion for museum work?
How did you become a curator? What did you go to school for?
“I became a curator because I love to think and talk about art. I studied art history as an undergraduate, and did a graduate program in curatorial studies.” –Ariel Pate, Assistant Curator of Photography
“Graduate school, internships, entry-level museum jobs, slowly working toward becoming a curator; I have an MA in decorative arts/design history and a PhD in architecture/design history” –Monica Obniski, Demmer Curator of 20th- and 21st-Century Design
“In order to become a curator you have to be interested in visual language and how it reflects the time in which it is produced. I studied art history in college and graduate school, and focused on the history of photography and contemporary art. Then I interned at museums around the country until I finally landed my first fellowship. I find that having a good visual memory is key to success in this field.” –Lisa Sutcliffe, Herzfeld Curator of Photography and Media Arts
What is considered a MAM-worthy piece of art; what’s the protocol?
“We look at numerous factors—quality is paramount—but we also ask a range of questions. Is it in good condition? Is it an excellent representation of its type? Is it compelling and unique? How does it connect to the Museum’s Collection? Does it build strength on strength or offer us something we didn’t have before? Does it connect disparate parts of the Collection? Etc. It is hard to describe the process simply, as it is also something intangible—an object should speak to you, it should be something that is so appealing, so compelling, for whatever reason, that it demands to be added to the Collection.” –Tanya Paul, Isabel and Alfred Bader Curator of European Art
What is the oldest work of art in the Museum’s Collection?
“Our Egyptian Statue of Sekhmet, Late New Kingdom (1069–664 BC), ca. 1000 BC” –Tanya Paul, Isabel and Alfred Bader Curator of European Art
What’s the oldest painting in the Museum’s Collection?
What is the oldest artwork in the Museum’s Collection that is known or suspected to have been made by a woman?
“It’s a toss up between our Diana Mantuana and our Sofonisba Anguissola, although likely the work by Sofonisba is a touch earlier” –Tanya Paul, Isabel and Alfred Bader Curator of European Art
How do you decide what pieces to display downstairs (in the Herzfeld Center of Photography and Media Arts)?
“As curators who oversee the Herzfeld Center, we aim to present a balanced program of photography and media arts that engages with the history of the medium as well as contemporary concerns. Photography is a light sensitive medium and so it must rotate more often than other objects in the Museum’s Collection.” –Lisa Sutcliffe, Herzfeld Curator of Photography and Media Arts, and Ariel Pate, Assistant Curator of Photography
How do you decide what pieces to move when you rotate what is currently on view?
“Sometimes we are making room for new acquisitions; other times, we may want to work through some ideas…and we are always considering how the works relate to one another, which may cause a work to rotate off view if there is a more compelling story to tell, etc.” –Monica Obniski, Demmer Curator of 20th- and 21st-Century Design
What’s your first step or thought when you begin curating a new exhibition?
“I started Portrait of Milwaukee looking at the Museum’s Collection: Which story or stories did the photographs tell, and what was missing from the narrative? With that in mind, I reached out to local collections to find photographs that told other stories—such as that of tannery workers in the mid 1970s, with photos borrowed from the Central Library.” –Ariel Pate, Assistant Curator of Photography
“What’s the thesis, and has something like this been done before?” –Monica Obniski, Demmer Curator of 20th- and 21st-Century Design
Are there any curations that are not your own that didn’t get the attention you believe they should have?
“The smaller rotation spaces in our Museum are sometimes overlooked. This is where curators get to explore just one idea, like the small posters Jules Cheret made for a Paris weekly; Milwaukee’s connection to polymath László Moholy-Nagy; or an introduction to Functional Fashions, a clothing line focused on providing disabled consumers with stylish clothing choices.” –Ariel Pate, Assistant Curator of Photography
What do you enjoy most about being a curator?
“Working with great art and the excellent team!” –Brandon Ruud, Abert Family Curator of American Art
If you visit the Museum between October 21 and November 10, you’ll notice the rise of the Burke Brise Soleil (“wings”) is a bit more rocking. The daily architectural feat, rising at 10 a.m., noon, and right before the Museum closes, will be temporarily accompanied by the song “Elevation” by U2.
We’re not just in a “rock music” kind of mood now that the wings are spruced up. In early June, the Museum kicked off its annual giving campaign—with a new, exciting twist. For every gift of $50 or more, donors received one entry into our “Program the Wings” drawing, and one lucky winner was selected to pick the music that would accompany the opening and closing of the “wings” for a short period of time.
So, who won? Drumroll, please….
Long-time Museum Member Ann Rozanski!
This local engineer has created many fond memories at the Museum since she joined in 2008—seeing the newest exhibitions, lingering in front of her favorite Collection work (Jules Bastien-Lepage’s The Wood Gatherer), and spending time with her mom at Art in Bloom. The “wings” have also long been a source of inspiration; Rozanski says they “let us all imagine being able to fly over Lake Michigan.” She chose “Elevation” to accompany their opening and closing because the U2 song is uplifting, and the lyrics reflect the upward movement: “In the sky…You make me feel like I can fly…So high.”
While this was a creative fundraising initiative, it’s also a reminder of the impact our donors have on the Museum. Without their continued generosity, we would not be able to put forth outstanding exhibitions, offer premier educational programs, and maintain our Collection of over 30,000 works of art—not to mention the 217-foot architectural wingspan.
Thanks to all who continue to support our institution, whether it was through donations or through one of the countless other ways you can share of your time and resources.
At the Museum, the impact of arts education can often be seen and heard—from the awe-inspired gazes upon entering the Calatrava-designed building, to the questions, discussions, and laughter that frequently fill the galleries.
In 2010, National Arts in Education Week was officially recognized by Congress and, since then, schools and institutions across the country have continued to celebrate annually, the second week in September. Championed by the non-profit organization, Americans for the Arts, this celebration is designed to encourage educational decision makers and elected officials to support what art museums have known for a long time: The arts are essential for a well-rounded education and for creating access and inclusivity to that end. Art museums commonly support this initiative with school programs and education departments that know all about the powerful impact of the arts in transforming learning experiences for visitors of all ages.
The MAM education department takes pride in celebrating and supporting arts in education year-round by offering something for everyone—from animal-themed student tours to professional development for teachers. Over 150 docent educators are dedicated to delivering high quality arts experiences on guided tours to over 50,000 school children each year. Each of the guided tours is designed to align with state and national standards for art education and commonly overlap with writing, social studies, and history curriculum standards as well. A growing number of teacher workshops are hosted to help educators incorporate art into their curriculum (and often include a themed guided tour!).
So how do docent-guided tours support the arts in education? Each tour, based on a pre-selected theme, provides engaging learning activities in the galleries. Students and docents exchange intergenerational knowledge and perspectives while interpreting works of art in a variety of ways. At a 12:1 student to docent ratio, students are encouraged to develop personal connections with art and share ideas within a small group. Name tags allow docents to praise, question, and call on students by name, as curiosity is piqued amidst intriguing works of art. Students get to slow down and dig deeper into the stories behind works of art through thought-provoking questions and participation in discussions.
Many studies, such as the recently published NAEA-AAMD Study: Impact of Art Museum Programs on K-12 Students, have proven that cultural enrichment opportunities can reach beyond classroom walls and into the community. Studies like these have also proven that art museum field trips promote critical and creative thinking skills, offer real-world learning, enhance observation skills, and help students empathize with life experiences from multiple perspectives and from different times and places.
Help us celebrate arts in education all year long by visiting with your teacher and school groups, or stop in for a weekend drop-in tour with a docent educator. We look forward to welcoming the next generation of curators, conservators, patrons, and, of course, artists that walk through our doors each year, benefiting from museum field trips in ways we have yet to see. And in the wise words of a thank you note from a visiting nine-year-old student, “The art museum is the best! They have so many paintings from so many different artists. If we didn’t have the art museum, I don’t know where I could get my insperashion. I know that the art museum is very important, so having the opportunity to take a tour to learn more is even better!”
If you’ve owned dogs, you likely have a few stories to tell—maybe your pup has run through the house with muddy paws, learned an impressive trick, cuddled with you when you were sick, or kept you company when you were home alone. Dog-human relationships can be very special, even life-changing, which is why these furry friends continue to be featured in books, movies—and art. From fierce hunting partners to lazy-day companions, the Museum’s Collection shows a wide range of “good boys” (and girls).
They say dogs are “man’s best friend;” well, here are some of MAM’s best friends.