AAHC Forum: Texas Southern University Students Help Catalog African American Art

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 Monica Vidal
Museum Registrar, The University Museum at Texas Southern University

My experience at the University Museum at Texas Southern University has been my first as a collections registrar in an academic setting. I have done collections work at a large, private museum and worked on exhibitions at a non-collecting university gallery, but not in this capacity. So it was a new and surprising experience when I began photographing, measuring, and taking notes, and curious and eager students stopped in to see what was happening.

D’Andre Holmes, an Art Major at TSU.

D’Andre Holmes, an Art Major at TSU.

In a two-year project funded by IMLS to document the art collection at TSU, the archivist and I were processing the large collection of African art that had been held at the John T. Biggers Art Center. The Art Center is where the university art history and studio classes are located. The room designated for this activity was just across from the student lounge and this happy circumstance brought a new dynamic to our course of action. It was not long before students were helping to inventory and relocate the collection. They also received an informal primer on condition reports and created samples using objects in the collection. This spontaneous introduction to cataloging procedures then took a formal turn when several students were given research internships over the summer.

For the internship, the students were given the task of researching artists and works in the University Museum’s various collections. The internships took place at both the Art Center and the University Museum. In addition to what they had already been doing as volunteers, the students also helped with exhibitions and data management. They learned how to create hard files for collections objects and how to enter records in the museum’s database. The students also created object exhibition labels and hung work for Treasures from the Permanent Collection. At the Art Center we tackled several rooms that were holding hundreds of alumni paintings and works on paper. At that point the students processed works on their own, including initial condition reports and photography.

The informal and formal training we provided gave the students a unique perspective on the life of a work of art and their career possibilities in the arts. One of the students went on to assist the conservators restoring several of the murals on campus. They learned how to handle and store their own artworks and I hope they were inspired by seeing those of their predecessors.

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