AAHC Forum: The I.P. Stanback Museum and Planetarium: Creating Life-Changing Opportunities for Students

This post is a part of the AAHC Forum. In the coming months we will invite current and past grantees to contribute their project experiences via blog posts on our UpNext Blog and then ask you to respond through the AAHC Virtual Forum. We hope you will add your voice and share your needs and opinions so that AAHC can continue to help African American museums thrive. Please visit the AAHC forum to continue the conversation.

By Ellen Zisholtz
Director/Curator, I.P. Stanback Museum and Planetarium

The I.P. Stanback Museum and Planetarium first opened in 1980 at South Carolina State University. Today it remains the only museum with a planetarium at any HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) and one of the few art museums in the nation with a planetarium.

Before I started as Director/Curator in 2005, the museum had deteriorated and was closed for several years. After renovation, the Stanback reopened in 2007 with an expanded commitment to student involvement, multidisciplinary education and a dedication to issues of conscience and social justice.

SC State has consistently been named one of the top universities by Washington Monthly Magazine, ranking first in social mobility, a measure of the gap between predicted rate of graduation and the actual rate. That means that our students are the best in the nation at overcoming disadvantages and exceeding expectations. Our graduates include Congressman James Clyburn, the first African American U.S. Representative elected from South Carolina since 1897, now the third-ranking Democrat in the House; State Senators; judges; generals; sports hall of famers; and many educators.

Interns and Director receiving 2011 Governor’s Award for the Humanities

Interns and Director receiving 2011 Governor’s Award for the Humanities

I began offering the first undergraduate museum studies classes, including internships for college credit, in order to train and involve students from all majors. It was immediately obvious that internships would be difficult to sustain at SC State because many of the students have to work to support themselves in school. With a 2009 grant from IMLS, the Stanback created life-changing opportunities for students, including a paid internship program, experiential museum visits, the chance to be presenters at national conferences, and chances to network with museum professionals from around the country.

The Association of African American Museums (AAAM), of which I am a board member, gave our interns the opportunity to be the only students presenting at the AAAM national conferences. This travel provided opportunities for creating videos, including Freedom Ride (on the way to Baton Rouge) and In Search of Social Justice (in preparation for an upcoming exhibition en route to Pittsburgh).

The I.P. Stanback Museum interns were the only students selected to serve on the DC Host Committee for the Dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. The letter of invitation cited the success of their multimedia presentation at the AAAM 2011 Tallahassee Conference as the impetus for their being chosen to document the historic dedication event for our nation’s archives.

In preparation for conferences, students have been researching The Truth, Whose Truth and Nothing but the Truth: Linking to Young People of Color, about biased interpretations of history and culture that often leave out African American viewpoints and the opinions of young people. This year, students presented at the American Alliance of Museums in Minneapolis and the Association for Educational Research in Florida and will present at the Association of Black Educators in Higher Education in Atlanta in February.

The assistance from IMLS leveraged funding and support from Title III, a federal program; the South Carolina State budget; and SC State student fees. Students now assist with all exhibitions and special programs. The Student Friends of the Museum originate and implement ideas and activities. The museum has gained in stature, stability, and influence through these advances made with IMLS support.

I can say I have the best job around. Not only do I have the freedom to develop programs and exhibitions with thought-provoking content, I also get to spend my time with some of the best students in the country. They inspire me continually.

Ellen Zisholtz is the Director/Curator of the I.P. Stanback Museum and Planetarium at South Carolina State University, where she supervised the re-opening of the Museum after several inoperative years. She is Assistant Professor, teaching Museum Studies in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts. 

The I.P. Stanback Museum and Planetarium is an embodiment of South Carolina State University’s commitment to serving and engaging diverse communities, enhancing the appreciation of the Arts, Sciences and Humanities, including Civil Rights, with education as the center of all activities. Encouraging the development of critical thinking and creative skills, the Stanback’s programs include collecting, preserving, exhibiting, and presenting work from a broad range of cultures for its varied constituents: local, regional, national, and global. The Stanback is of significant national importance as the only facility of its kind, an interdisciplinary Museum and Planetarium, at any Historically Black College and University and one of the few in the country.

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