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Ohio State University students assist with Columbus Museum of Art exhibition

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This fall, an exhibition featuring the work of artist Sarah Rosalena is opening at the Pizzuti Collection of the Columbus Museum of Art (CMA). Kris Paulsen, associate professor and chair of undergraduate studies in the Department of History of Art at The Ohio State University, is curating the show.

In addition to the staff at CMA, Paulsen has some additional help: graduate students from her autumn 2022 class, “Exhibition Making at the CMA.”

“I hope this is a refreshing experience, to get to work on something that isn’t just between you and your professor,” Paulsen said of the collaboration between Ohio State and CMA. “This class and this project have different stakes. The work isn’t just for me to grade. It’s for the public, it’s going to have a lifespan.”

To support the artwork featured in an exhibition, wall labels and exhibition catalogs are used by curators to explain the themes of the show. These must be easily understood by the public, Paulsen said.

“There is a different kind of engagement with the work required, and a different kind of writing,” she said.

While the catalogue will feature essays from anthropologist Elizabeth Povinelli and geologist Kathryn Yusoff, the majority of the entries will be written by graduate students, who worked together to edit and polish their writings until they reached a suitable standard. These writing workshops have already proved valuable, said April Riddle, one of Paulsen’s students.

“The major takeaway for me is a stronger comfort level with giving and receiving edits,” she said.

Another benefit of the class was working with a living artist.

“We often think about artworks in museums, living forever on the same wall, or in pages of a book,” Paulsen said. Being able to speak with the artist is a “professional experience you don’t typically get in art history.”

“The conversation with Sarah [Rosalena] was really rewarding,” said Mia Kivel, another student of Paulsen’s. “Most art historians don’t get to talk with actual artists that frequently. We spent an hour and a half talking with Sarah; it was very productive.”

Both Riddle and Kivel will continue their work with Paulsen through the opening of the exhibition, despite the course lasting only a semester.

“It was exciting to take a class with [Paulsen],” Riddle said. “I didn’t have any major curatorial experience so I thought this would be a great opportunity.”

In addition to working with Rosalena, Paulsen and her students spoke often with Nicole Rome, chief registrar at CMA. This is the third Ohio State-curated exhibition at CMA. Rome thinks the partnership between the two institutions is of great benefit to both.

“If you’re an art historian, to be able to see real works of art in front of you is so different from seeing it on a screen or in a textbook,” she said. “A huge priority for the museum is to be a teaching space. To be able to work with such great faculty and students from Ohio State, who are engaged and excited, that’s exactly the kind of work we want to be doing.”

One of the key lessons Rome tried to impart: understanding an exhibit space. Students had the chance to model how they would arrange the exhibition, which will be held at the Pizzuti Collection of the Columbus Museum of Art in the Short North area of Columbus. A visit to the galleries allowed for greater understanding of the logistics behind an exhibition.

“We wanted them to think about the space and what works are going to be in the show,” Rome said. “How will those works connect to each other physically and creatively?”

This type of work, the planning and modeling, the brainstorming, the writing, are all valuable for graduate students who wish to work in museums. But the writing gives students something just as valuable for budding educators: publishing credits.

“We’ll come away with something tangible, something that we can show potential employers,” Kivel said.

“The main project is the writing,” Paulsen said. “Students have produced all the cataloged entries; they’ll be published in the catalog. It will be the first writing credit that some of the students get, which is very important for aspiring academics to have. And not just for their resumes, but to go through the formal editing process: getting feedback, going through layers of copy, seeing through a final project.”

“It’s helpful,” Riddle said. “It leads to more opportunities.”