Museum Studies Capstone: Curation
This year, a cohort of Museum Studies students are collaborating with Michael Dela Dika, a ceramic sculptor and educator, on an exhibition for their Curatorial Practices Seminar, the capstone experience of the Museum Studies minor. The exhibition, entitled Shaping Rhapsody, will open at the Berman Museum on January 20, 2023.
Every two years, the Berman Museum extends a unique learning experience to Ursinus College students interested in museum studies. As part of a curatorial seminar course, students co-curate an exhibition at the museum, working with the museum’s staff and a visiting artist. This year, Museum Studies students are collaborating with Michael Dela Dika, a Newark, DE-based ceramic sculptor. Dika teaches Ceramics and Sculpture at the University of Delaware and is currently an artist-in-residence at Tyler School of Art and Architecture.
By researching current curatorial methodologies and influences on the artist’s creative practices during the fall semester, students prepare to get hands-on for the installation of their exhibition in mid-January. The course challenges them to think critically about the display and interpretation of objects in museums and how these curatorial decisions impact an audience’s experience.
Work in the Classroom
Coursework throughout the fall 2022 semester encouraged students to conceptualize their upcoming exhibition through an interdisciplinary lens. Considering the subjects Dika addresses in his work, students explored themes such as the immigration experience, the history and effects of colonization, and the social history of Ghana, where Dika was raised. This research process is essential, as it prepares students to make informed decisions for the spring exhibition.
By the end of the fall semester, students have finalized the language of the exhibition title and description, planned events for the spring semester that will complement the show, and brainstormed what they would like the promotional materials to look like.
To interact with the artist and his work, students visited Dika at his studio early in the fall semester. Seeing the throwing and glazing rooms, giant kilns, and studio where he works helped students visualize Dika’s process and inspired new ideas for exhibition development.
The studio visit tends to be a turning point in the course each year it runs. As the project becomes less abstract, students get more invested in the research, taking ownership of the exhibition they’ll curate and establishing their relationship with the artist.
“The environment of Michael’s studio was very fun and creative. It was an inviting space that inspired me to want to work.” -Allie Fiore, Class of 2024
At one point in his conversation with the students, Dika passed around a piece he had recently fired. Many students commented that it felt delicate in their hands, and they worried they might drop and break it. Dika, on the other hand, trusted the balance of the piece and encouraged the class to consider its gravity-defying possibilities as they developed ideas for the exhibition.
Tension, balance, and experimentation are trademarks of Dika’s work. Most of his sculptures marry clay and found metals. In the building process, clay is dependent on the metal to maintain its structure and shape. Once fired in the kiln, the materials exchange properties; the fragile clay becomes strong and provides stability to the softening metal. Since he doesn’t always know how the found metal will transform in the heat of the kiln, Dika often adds onto a fired piece or combines two pieces together until he discovers the right equilibrium.
Curatorial Practices Seminar students return to campus two weeks before the start of the spring semester to bring their vision to life. Over several days, the co-curators will work closely with Dika to install his ceramic sculptures in the Upper Gallery at the Berman Museum. During this process, the students will learn best practices for art handling and installation, condition reporting, and strategies for communicating an exhibition narrative and provoking a meaningful visitor experience.
While Dr. Deborah Barkun, Creative Director, and Teddi Caputo, Curatorial Assistant, will continue advising the class throughout the installation, they encourage the students to take charge. Students, therefore, are responsible for decisions related to wall color, lighting design, placement of artwork, and promotional materials. The resulting exhibition is a triumph in collaboration, reflecting the voices of Michael Dela Dika, the Berman team, and each student co-curator.
Participating students remain invested in their exhibition once it’s complete, attending the opening reception and several related public programs.
Perhaps the most satisfying part of the Curatorial Practices experience is seeing the completed exhibition open to the public at the Berman Museum. Teddi Caputo, Curatorial Assistant, participated in the seminar during her time as a student at Ursinus College. She describes her cohort’s response to the exhibition opening as an oceanic feeling, a powerful shared experience of connection and achievement.
We hope you’ll join us in congratulating the student curators of Shaping Rhapsody at the opening on Thursday, February 9.
Check out these past exhibitions to see the work of Curatorial Practices Seminar students from previous years.
- Shannon Collis, Strata (2021)
- Adam DelMarcelle, Bearing Witness (2019)
- Natessa Amin, Dancing on the Water Tank (2017)