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From talks to trips, Art Society and Student Museum Collective engage students through art

April 27, 2023

Courtesy of Sophia Wei
STATE OF THE ART: The Student Museum Collective on one of its off-campus trips. The club subsidizes museum visits for its members in an effort to make art more accessible.

For Sophia Wei ’23 and Emily Jacobs ’24, co-directors of two student-led groups, the Art Society and the Student Museum Collective, life at Bowdoin has been shaped by connections made over a love of art.

Wei joined both clubs during her first year and found in her leaders valuable friends and mentors. Over the pandemic, though, the Art Society and the Student Museum Collective saw a decrease in events and engagement. Now, Wei and Jacobs have led a resurgence in in-person activities and seek to provide club members with the same kindness and openness that Wei recalls.

“I really appreciated the guidance of the seniors and upperclassmen who opened my eyes to questions in art to consider—things beyond my preconceptions of art,” Wei said. “That mentorship was something that I valued and was part of the reason that I felt it was important to continue in the clubs.”

The Art Society’s mission is to provide a space for discussions on current events in the art world, while the Student Museum Collective coordinates free museum visits and arranges meetings with curators. Both clubs aim to enhance accessibility within art through subsidizing off-campus museum access and removing the knowledge barriers that often make engagement with art intimidating.

“We have a pretty core group of familiar faces right now, and actually a lot of them aren’t even considering art history as a major,” Jacobs said. “Their input is really valuable. They bring an entirely different way of seeing.”

Jacobs noted that the Art Society’s Thursday discussions have a culture of freely sharing ideas.

“It’s a really nice space to talk about art where you aren’t worried about getting the answer wrong,” Jacobs said. “There can be a lot of pressure in an art history class to get the right interpretation of the work that the teacher’s going to nod along with. These spaces are a lot more free and experimental.”

Notably, the Art Society brought Malaysian street artist and filmmaker Fahmi Reza to campus this year. Reza’s visit was planned in an attempt to reignite the passion for activism within art that marked the group’s founding. Early Art Society leaders brought members of the Guerrilla Girls movement to campus, for example. Wei noted that Reza’s discussion of his political goals brought a unique and eye-opening perspective to attendees.

“That was a great success, bringing an international artist to a small liberal arts college in Maine and hearing about his journey as an activist who expresses his ideas through art,” Wei said.

Wei and Jacobs were also excited about the return of in-person Student Museum Collective trips, which this year took place across New England. Last week, the group visited the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, where curators led a private tour and a panel on careers in the arts. Today, students ventured to Boston to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts. Wei emphasized the importance of the trips being free.

“We don’t want people to feel left out or to take money out of their own pocket when this is something that Bowdoin could pay for,” Wei said.

Jacobs will continue as a co-director of both groups next year and hopes to enhance student connection with the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. This year, the group organized a discussion with curator Casey Braun, which Jacobs recalls as one of her favorite events.

“I just think it would be really great to get more students who aren’t necessarily art history or visual art people just through the museum doors, because it’s such an amazing resource and the people in there are so kind,” she said.


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