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On-campus museum opens up for behind-the-scenes look

USF Contemporary Art Museum will open Friday to present Museum at Work, where museum employees will teach members of the community about what it takes to exhibit and store collections of art. ORACLE PHOTOS/ADAM MATHIEU

The Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) is using this summer to remind students about the museum located on campus.

“You’d be surprised by how many people don’t know there is a museum here,” Curator Peter Foe said. “I run into alumni and tell them I work at the museum and they say ‘There’s a museum?’”

This summer CAM will host Museum at Work, a project geared toward making students more aware of their access to the museum as well as offer a chance to educate the public on the inner workings of the museum.

There are many aspects that fall under the Museum at Work umbrella this summer. One aspect is a series of small exhibitions, which will all feature works from the museum’s permanent collection. Additionally, there will be five workshops throughout June and July that cover topics such as photographing and installing artwork.

Foe said the workshops will provide the staff an opportunity to educate others on museum operations such as documenting, care and storing of works of art that belong in a permanent collection.

“The workshops are directed toward the general public and helping them understand how they might photograph things, how they might frame things, physically store things,” Foe said. “One of the workshops is how to take care of a collection. Most people end up collecting something, Cabbage Patch dolls or New York Times headlines, so how do you manage those things in the long term?”

During the workshops, the CAM staff and interns will work in the open gallery space as they do activities such as preparing work for storage or photo documentation. The various workshops will offer visitors the chance to see the work that goes into framing and photographing artwork as well as get the chance to tour the museum’s storage and workshop areas.

Foe also said Museum at Work will be a launching point to get students familiar with CAM and show the more hands-on side of museum operations.

“All of this is kind of outreach is to let the community know that we’re here and we’re a really great resource,” Foe said. “This is about engaging students, but we also have a lot of people from the broader community that come in to see the museum. As the general public comes in, we’ll be set up to do some of the work we do behind the scenes out in public.”

For Foe, the goal of the workshops is to be able to work with students to help them understand what happens in the museum and the experiences that go behind preparing a show.

Aside from informing the public, the CAM staff is using Museum at Work to give more experience than usual to student interns, studio art majors seeking college credit and a chance to gain an inside look on museum operations that the classroom cannot offer. 

While a typical semester will see one or two interns at CAM, Museum at Work gives the staff the opportunity to work with nine students working in a much more intense fashion as they participate in workshops and assist in the rearrangement of the expanding collection to allow a more efficient use of the museum’s limited storage space.

One of the summer interns is Megan Achtzener, a senior majoring in studio art, who is currently helping do inventory on the museum’s collection.

“We’ve done a lot of inventory work, we’re really getting to see a lot of work and learn about the system they use to keep everything organized. Later on, there will be some photography work and installations, all kinds of fun and new experiences for us to gain from,” Achtzener said. “I feel like this is a good opportunity to see what could be potential job opportunities.”

After 18 years at CAM, Foe said he understands the internships serve as a great training ground for students who want careers in the museum field, particularly now with Museum at Work giving the interns more than the average workload. 

“It’s more intensive,” Foe said. “The project allows us to spend about two and a half or three months to really focus on working with students directly and getting a lot of the physical labor done in definitely a more intense fashion and a shorter period of time.”

So while interns are a typical fixture at CAM, with Museum at Work, there is more to be done and gained from the workshops and the unframing being done at the museum.

“In a regular semester, they might get to see one or two things framed or unframed,” Shannon Annis, exhibitions manager and registrar at CAM, said. By comparison, almost 200 works are going to be unframed this summer as part of Museum at Work.

With a busy summer ahead, Foe and his interns will certainly be at work as they prepare hundreds of works to enter the new storage drawers, provide demonstrations at the workshops and install works.

Foe is particularly excited about the final show of the summer, which will allow for the public to vote on works from the collection that will be shown, though as of now it is unclear what method the museum will use to gather votes. 

CAM doors will reopen Friday for an installation workshop which will be the actual installation of the first exhibition, “You Just Have to See It.” The show will pull works from the museum’s collection that tend not to photograph well and give the viewer the most satisfaction when seen in person, within the walls of a museum.