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Documenting art

A man stands behind a camera in the west wing of the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM). Using a large reflector board, he adjusts the light hitting “Torso,” a ceramic sculpture by artist Lynda Benglis.

Peter Foe, the curator for the CAM, is doing regular museum maintenance as part of the new interactive exhibit, Museum at Work.

Usually, when the staff photographs and documents the collections they shut down the museum, but the exhibit opened the process to the public May 18 through July 17.

“The exhibit gets people to see what a museum is like between exhibits and behind the scenes,” said volunteer Enaam Alnaggar, a junior majoring in creative writing.

Visitors are able to interact with members of the staff who work on the photography and documentation process. Macintosh computers are available for students to look through the collections database, visit the museum’s Flickr album and read volunteer blogs.

“It’s been really great to work with the students all over campus, too, to show them what we have,” said Shannon Annis, the registrar who tracks the collection.

Foe said the staff members came up with the idea for Museum at Work – They wanted a way to keep the museum open in the summer and still be able to photograph and document the museum’s catalog. When the idea was suggested that they allow students to interact in the process, the members agreed.

The exhibit also saves the museum money, Foe said. A $20, 4 GB SanDisk memory card is one of the only expenses for the exhibit.

However, there is more to the exhibit than saving money.

“Our mission is bringing work of a contemporary nature to the student body,” Foe said.

Barbara Cardinale, a library science master’s graduate and aspiring archivist, is one of 20 students who volunteer for the exhibit. She edits the exhibit’s blog to fulfill the intern requirement for the museum studies certificate at USF.

Writers for the blog come from varied backgrounds – anthropology, English, history, studio arts and fine arts – and each post shows the writer’s area of expertise, Cardinale said.

“(On the blogs) we talk about how the exhibit relates to what we’re interested in,” she said.

Cardinale said the museum’s staff is patient with her need to ask questions.

“It’s nice to be in that type of environment – where the people you work with really care that you’re learning,” she said.

Annis said the attendees have been mostly community members and students, but the exhibit has also drawn art enthusiasts who wanted to research the collection.

“We really want to get the word out that our collection is here and that we want people to use it,” she said.

The Museum has given guided tours to varied groups, including studio art classes, photo classes, and even seniors from a retirement home, Foe said.

Featuring artists such as Robert Stackhouse and Robert Mapplethorpe, the Contemporary Art Museum displays artwork from the ’60s to today. Admittance is free.