USF's Museum Blog

Organized Chaos: Creating an Exhibition During a Pandemic

From The future now poster series, Related Tactics, paper poster, dimensions variable, 2020

This semester’s Museum Studies Curatorial Practicum class was unlike any other. Not only was the entire course taught remotely, but the class had to prepare an art exhibition online as well. The challenges that come with creating an exhibition from scratch were compounded by time zone variations and technical difficulties. In the end, the class created a thought-provoking exhibition for the USF community to enjoy in COVID-safe ways.

The Bayview Opera House with one of The Future now posters installed in its storefront.

Become The Monuments That Cannot Fall is the first survey exhibition of Related Tactics, a Bay Area and Washington, D.C.-based art collaborative that creates captivating work about race and culture. Along with the online exhibition, there is The future now poster series installed in storefronts in the Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco, which addresses the systemic displacement of people and encourages introspection. Engaging the community through important social justice issues are both integral parts of the USF mission and Related Tactics’s work.

In creating the exhibition, the class of graduate students was divided into three teams: Design, Subject Matter, and Visitor Experience. Each of the teams was charged with different elements of the exhibition. Working together, with the help of our professor Astria Suparak and the Thacher Gallery, the Curatorial Practicum class curated a professional, online exhibition. We (Team Subject Matter) asked our class a few questions about their experiences this semester, including what were their biggest takeaways and favorite parts of the course.

  1. When you look back on this class, what will you remember as the best parts of the course?
    • Team Visitor Experience: Collectively being lost in the whole process, as weird as it sounds, was one of the best parts. Making this up as we go is kind of cool and makes this such a unique experience. There will be a lot of these collaborative efforts in our futures as museum professionals.
    • Team Design: Our group! Working very hard together, meeting every week and communicating regularly, and being able to have the freedom to design with each other. Bonding over the collaborative nature of the class and genuinely making friends–even over the internet. Being excited to work and get along with each other, and using the nature of women power to get things done! 
    • Team Subject Matter: The best part was our collaborative discussions during class. The entire class had input in the creative process of the exhibition, which really elevated the experience. Working with Astria, the artists, and the teams made the whole experience incredible. The camaraderie of working through new challenges and figuring things out on the fly brought us together and made it a very memorable experience. And knowing that in the end it would come together.
  1. What was each team responsible for? 
    • Visitor Experience: Our role is really understanding how the public is going to interact with the exhibit and with the event. If we were able to work in-person, that would have also included catering and the flow of the whole evening. But now that we’re online, it’s a Zoom webinar and determining what order it will flow in, plus making the exhibit accessible, social media content, and getting the word out. We’re like the front line.
    • Subject Matter: Our team was in charge of all the written content, from the introduction to the artist bios. We went through many edits to find the right words to describe the exhibition and the works.
    • Design: We were in charge of creating the website platform for the survey exhibit.
  1. How was working together in teams, as well as with outside individuals and groups (like the artists, the gallery, the other university departments)?
    • Subject Matter: Working in smaller groups is great! It helps everyone get their ideas incorporated and heard. Working with and connecting with the other teams was difficult due to the online nature of the class but it was essential to the process so we all made it work! 
    • Design: Working with the teams internally was fun, but communications outside of class was challenging which created a way to challenge ourselves to communicate in different ways and step outside our comfort zones. We cried a lot. 
    • Visitor Experience: I love my group. The communication has been fantastic, having a group chat has been great, and every time I reach out to another group they respond promptly. In terms of other entities at the university, it’s really all through Astria so it’s pretty easy.
  2. What was the most difficult aspect of this exhibition?
    • Design: Online is hard. But it has taught us to be adaptable. And now we know what CSS is and how to work Adobe Spark. Learning new techniques and programs to create the design led to new experiences for creating exhibits online.
    • Visitor Experience: It was the chain of events that we had to go through to get any kind of answer. Staying on the same page as everybody–I feel like the groups were the same but were very far apart. Coming up with thoughtful questions to ask the artists has been difficult. 
    • Subject Matter: Trying to coordinate times for everyone to meet could get hard, but overall we made it through.
  3. In addition to all the emails, Zoom meetings, and working collaboratively with Google Docs, what resources and tools did you use while working on this exhibition?
    • Design: We investigated various platforms for the website, including Google Sketchup and Artsteps. Tools used to create the website were Adobe Spark Page, Photoshop, Canva and WordPress.
    • Visitor Experience: Google Slides, internet searches, and we watched a few Zoom webinars to research land acknowledgements and exhibition openings. 
    • Subject Matter: Slack, artists’ websites, interviews with the artists.
  1. If you were not on the team you are on now, what team would you like to join and why?
    • Subject Matter: I would have liked to try and be a part of all the teams, I understand why we were split up, but every team did such cool stuff! Team Design has had such a tough, cool part to play and it looks like a super fun challenge!
    • Visitor Experience: I think Subject Matter, working everything together, would be my second choice.
    • Design: Visitor Experience, with marketing the exhibit, and Subject Matter, with interpreting for audiences, are interesting processes. Making the exhibition accessible and telling a narrative would be a great experience. But I genuinely love being on Team Design.
  2. If you could describe curatorial work in one or two words, what would it be?
    • Subject Matter:
      Exciting collaboration
      Versatile
      Long email chains
    • Design:
      Collaborative
      Detailed
      Process and Metamorphosis
    • Visitor Experience:
      20 million tabs
      Collective effort
      Organized chaos

Curatorial Practicum class, Fall 2020:

Design Team: Stephanie Kerry, Colbie Little, Alice Timmins.

Subject Matter Team: Gorety Gallardo, Hannah Jeffers, Sarah Kefalas, Ashley Vairo

Visitor Experience Team: Miranda Bello, Justin Channels, Caillean Magee

Become The Monuments That Cannot Fall November 19, 2020 – February 14, 2021
Organized by Astria Suparak and the University of San Francisco’s MA in Museum Studies Curatorial Practicum class in collaboration with Thacher Gallery.

Click here to learn more about University of San Francisco’s graduate museum studies program.

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