Lauren McCardel is a student of architecture and design and finds inspiration in the art that surrounds us every day. Ursinus Magazine caught up with Lauren as she looks to build on the museum’s three-decade history.
An accomplished arts professional, avid traveler, and student of architecture and design, Lauren McCardel became the new executive director of the Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art in January. She received her master’s degree from the Savannah College of Art and Design; is pursuing her Ph.D. in art history from the Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University; and recently led development and stewardship initiatives at the Tyler School and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She is the third person to helm the Berman in its three-decade history.
She loves to travel and is inspired by the architecture and history of the United Kingdom.
It’s where I really started to think about my place in the world, how I perceive the world around me, and what’s meaningful to me. I think I became a much more visual person through my experiences there as a student. Because of my interest in British history—and Scottish and Irish history—I grew and developed as an art historian. I’m really interested in the histories of British art and architecture and industrial and urban design, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some of the artists and designers who have impacted me the most are from that time, and they’ve been pathways to other areas of interest.
She believes that art isn’t just something to be seen, but something to be lived and experienced, and it surrounds us in our daily lives.
Creative output shouldn’t always be something we look at on a wall or in a rarefied space. We’re constantly surrounded by visual languages—whether we spend much time thinking about it or not, all of us live with art and interact with it every day. For me, that’s a reminder to keep asking myself, “How do I perceive the world around me and what’s meaningful to me?” I’m really interested in thinking about how objects we might not consider “art”— utilitarian or decorative objects, for example—made by people who might not be in our history books, are still very influential parts of society and culture. It makes me think about how we design for living and how often we interact with designed objects that came about through the creative efforts of someone that maybe we don’t even acknowledge as an artist.
When it comes to art and architectural influences, Philadelphia, Pa., and Savannah, Ga., are two of the very best—albeit very different— cities.
[The Savannah College of Art and Design] really is an intricate part of the urban fabric of Savannah. I studied architectural history there, so not only was the city my campus, it was also my textbook. I was fascinated by its design, architecture, and complicated social and economic history. The city (and the wonderful teachers I had) taught me to think more expansively about how the built environment, like art, is a lens through which we can learn so much about different facets of culture, history, and what connects us as humans. I’m a true Northeasterner at heart, though, so when I finished my graduate program, I headed for Philadelphia, a city I’d spent some time in but wasn’t all that familiar with. I followed the art! One of the only things I knew about Philly was that it had a vibrant, growing, and relatively accessible arts scene, so I packed all my belongings into my car and moved to a city where I didn’t know anyone. For the better part of a decade, I’ve been finding out just how rich, diverse, and socially conscious the arts community in our area is, a community I feel very lucky to participate in.
The Berman Museum is uniquely positioned to bring together students with a broad array of academic interests under the same roof to create and inform art—a tradition McCardel is committed to growing.
Museums on college campuses can and should be active learning spaces. Just a few weeks ago, a student was talking to me about how she was learning so much from working on a project with an artist here at the Berman. The museum environment is a testing ground, enabling interdisciplinary learning opportunities through experiences like the one that student shared—experiences that build confidence and encourage students to ask deeper questions. I’m excited to set a roadmap for how we want to grow, and which voices we want to pull in to help guide us in those efforts. We invite incredible artists to create, for example, site specific pieces and installations that help the Berman engage with our campus and public audiences, but what really excites me are the projects undertaken through the collaborative efforts of individual artists and students from across disciplines here at Ursinus.
Like many students, faculty, staff, and alumni, she has a favorite piece among the Berman’s outdoor sculpture collection.
Honestly, it’s hard to call just one of them a favorite! I’m partial to a few of the bronze sculptures by Lynn Chadwick—The Watchers in particular feel like benevolent protectors keeping watch over comings and goings around campus. If I had to pick one favorite from the whole collection, though, it would be Katie Merz’s Live the Questions, a mural painted on the smokestack on the edge of campus in honor of the class of 2020. The smokestack has already inspired assignments in courses across the college, and in the next year or two it will be included among the texts taught in the Quest core curriculum.
McCardel received some words of wisdom from the Berman’s first-ever director, Lisa Tremper Hanover.
She told me, “You’re gonna have so much fun.” I don’t think anyone has ever told me that in any other job I’ve started. There’s a great deal of responsibility here and a history to build on, but Lisa reminded me that it’s important to have fun, too. There’s so much wisdom in that.