An in-between space: Student engagement at The University of Queensland Art Museum

Alice-Anne Psaltis / The University of Queensland | 7-Apr-2016
In the visual arts, like many other areas, volunteering, internships, and work experience are essential components of a student's education. At the University of Queensland, arts students are fortunate to have institutions on campus that provide these opportunities. The University of Queensland Art Museum is one such institution. #uqartmuseum @UQArtMuseum #YAJA
Entrance to the UQ Art Museum with Nell's Happy Ending, 2006
Last year, when I was completing my Honours Degree in Art History at the University of Queensland, I came across When study goes wrong (2015) by Tita Mitsis. In the book, Mitsis's shares her personal experience as a graduate student who struggled to find employment in her chosen field. As an oversupply of graduates enter the workforce, with many lacking practical experience, this has become a common conundrum.

In the visual arts, like many other areas, volunteering, internships, and work experience are essential components of a student's education. At the University of Queensland, arts students are fortunate to have institutions on campus that provide these opportunities. The University of Queensland Art Museum is one such institution. Located on the St. Lucia campus in the James and Mary Emelia Mayne Centre, it houses the University's Art Collection and hosts a range of exhibitions throughout the year. One of the Museum's major initiatives is to increase student engagement through offering internships, paid casual employment, and volunteer projects. These opportunities are available in various areas including front of house, public programs and events, curatorial, exhibition management, registration, finance, and marketing, and are a wonderful way for students to immerse themselves in the visual arts, whilst also gaining that much needed practical experience.

The UQ Art Museum also holds public programs and events that specifically target student audiences. From discussions and activities designed for art history and museum studies classes, to evening events such as music performances by Argo (composers and former UQ School of Music students Ben Heim and Connor D'Netto), film screenings, College Night, and Night at the Museum (where the art museum, as well as other museums and libraries on campus, stayed open after hours for tours and entertainment), there are a myriad of ways students can be involved.

In 2012, the Museum, along with the UQ Society of Fine Arts (a non-profit student society established by UQ students for Brisbane's art community), held a panel discussion called 'Oh the Places You'll Go.' This casual conversation provided students of the visual arts with career advice from a diverse range of arts professionals. Unlike in other areas, there is no specified career path for Art History and Museum Studies graduates. Instead, what the discussion revealed, was the multiplicity of varying paths graduates take to end up in distinctively different positions, such as a museum director, commercial gallery owner and manager, freelance writer and curator, and academic. As a young art history student, listening to this conversation was both exciting and daunting. Exciting, as it was incredible to hear the 'places you could go,' but daunting knowing that it was completely up to you to make it happen. As students, it is essential to listen and talk to people who work in, and are passionate about, your chosen field. This is why 'Oh the Places You'll Go' was held again last year, and will hopefully become an annual event.

On top of providing student opportunities and career advice, in 2015 the UQ Art Museum launched the Alumni Friends of UQ Collection Study Room. The purpose built workroom is a space where students, researchers, and the broader public can access and study requested artworks from the UQ Art Collection. There are over 3,500 artworks in the Collection that range from delicate works on paper to large-scale sculptural constructions, and include past and present Australian artists, a National Collection of Artists Self-Portraits, and a collection of Chinese antiquities. With something to interest everyone, this space is not only for students of the visual arts, but encourages those from other disciplines to use artworks as a primary learning tool.

Enhancing education and increasing student engagement are at the forefront of the UQ Art Museum's mission. As students move through their university degree it is becoming more and more important that they gain practical experience. The UQ Art Museum provides students with an in-between space "“ one that directly engages with university life, and yet prepares students for the real world.

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