This April the Walters Art Museum of Baltimore debuted their new exhibit, Across Asia: Arts of Asia and the Islamic World. The exhibition features three new galleries, each focused on a different region: East Asia, South and Southeast Asia, and the Islamic World. Containing over 600 works that span over 5,000 years, Across Asia is the result of years of work from curators, museum staff, museum supporters, and more recently, the Walters’s new College Student Advisory Group (CSAG).
Containing twelve college students from five Maryland campuses, the College Student Advisory’s Group’s main goal is to bring a fresh, youthful perspective to a field that is typically dominated by older experts and academics. Two Goucher students, Amy Kornberg ‘25 and Bronwyn Burke ‘24, served on the advisory group, which was tasked with developing Community Voice labels for specific objects and planning the College Takeover, a community event at the Walters. Both Kornberg and Burke found out about the opportunity through professors at Goucher, who encouraged them to apply.
“Since I’m an Asian Studies minor, I thought that it would be interesting to learn about different [Asian] arts and artforms, and engage with that. And the application process was fairly easy,” Kornberg noted.
“I’m from the city, so I grew up going to the Walters Museum. I’ve been there probably a hundred times, and I’m not being sarcastic when I say that that,” Burke said, “so I was like, ‘yes, this is what I want to do.’”
Peter Ibenana, the David Hischorn Head of Community Engagement at the Walters Museum, had the idea for CSAG. “The Walters is really working to bring in more community perspectives and community voices to its exhibitions and installations, but [college students were] not identified at the time,” Ibenana said, speaking to the original inspiration that led to the group’s formation.
The students in the group were contracted for 6 two-hour meetings, the first three of which pertained to Community Voice labels, with the second three being focused on organizing community events. The College Takeover – the event the group organized – featured different community engagement methods, including a zine created by the group, a photo booth, and a button-making activity. For the Community Voice labels, group members teamed up and picked certain objects in the exhibit to write about from a college student perspective.
Kornberg’s group wrote about an ancient scholar’s desk from the East Asian gallery, and Burke wrote with one other student about a case of ivory statues depicting Jesus Christ from the South and Southeast Asian gallery. Kornberg said that the process of writing was “hard, but it was cool, because we got to hear each other’s stories, and how they connected to the object, and kind of meld them into one. It was hard though, because everyone has such different stories.”
Burke agreed with Kornberg on the difficulty of the task: “the process initially was very difficult because [my group partner] and I have very different backgrounds. Trying to synthesize our voices into one… was difficult, but rewarding in the end when we came up with the final project,” she said. “We could still be in touch with our own experiences, but it worked well together.”
Burke and Kornberg both felt like the experience of being on CSAG taught them a lot, even if they do not envision themselves working in the field as a career, as is true for Kornberg. “I think that working with other people, that was a good life lesson for me personally, because I’m such an introvert, so talking to other people is hard. Being kind of forced to talk to them gave me an outlet to say ideas and opinions,” she said.
As a history major with a minor in historic preservation and visual material culture, museum work is right up Burke’s alley. “I learned more about just how long it takes to put an exhibit together, the process, and sort of the background of a museum… I plan on going into library sciences and archival work, so this is already on the horizon [for me],” she said.
Ibenana’s takeaway from the College Student Advisory Group shows a rich vision for the next generation of museum curators. “If there’s anything I would want [CSAG] to take away, [it would be] to not just reimagine not just museums, but understand how spaces can be hubs for collaboration and engagement” Ibenana explained.
He acknowledged that while the Walters Museum is looking to make some changes with additions like CSAG, there is only so much that can be done with a traditional museum that is nearly one-hundred years old. Nevertheless, he hopes that bringing young perspectives to a space like the Walters will not only spark change within the institution, but that it will inspire the next generation to truly think outside of the box.
“What I would want them to do is not to come in and become carbon copies of us,” he said, “But to come in, learn some things, and do something different in your time. Do something completely different. Do something that doesn’t look the same as this, because that’s what’s going to bring in a lot more people to have conversations about these things.”
The Walters Art Museum’s Across Asia: Arts of Asia and the Islamic World is free and open to the public. The galleries span the entire fourth floor of the museum, with a small exterior section dedicated to contemporary Asian artists. The Walters Art Museum is open Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.