Tours and activities led by undergraduates connect community to newest arts center on campus.
Even though it has been open for less than a month, the new George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum’s staff has made it habit to pull talent from every corner of the university: Faculty members curated two of the first three shows. Graduate students designed some of the exhibitions. GW student groups performed at opening events March 21.
But fostering an even stronger sense of community is critically important for a museum that aims to be a cultural hub on campus, explained second-year graduate student Lauren Shenfeld, B.A. ’13, a Presidential Administrative fellow who has been working at the museum for the past two years. She had the idea of organizing a museum Student Corps—a group of undergraduate students who could lead 10-minute interactive exhibition tours and introduce the 46,000-square-foot arts space to other members of the GW community.
She reached out to students via email and found eight undergraduate cultural buffs eager to form the inaugural Student Corps. The eight students run the gamut from dance to economic majors, and their diversity and range of backgrounds is a huge benefit to the museum experiences they offer others, Ms. Shenfeld said.
“They all have such different backgrounds and interests, both personally and academically, and that’s part of what makes these tours so special—it’s what they’re bringing to the tours from their individual perspectives,” she said.
Senior Amanda Rooth was one of the Student Corps members who responded to Ms. Shenfeld’s call. She visited the museum early on—before any exhibitions were installed—and saw it come together from the beginning. She thought having a group of students to lead tours would show her fellow classmates what an integral part of campus the new museum represents.
“I thought it was so unusual because this was an opportunity to bring in students that other people in the GW community could relate to,” Ms. Rooth said. “I knew instantly this was something I wanted to be part of.”
Already, the Student Corps has found success. They shared their perspectives at several museum opening events and led tours during the museum’s Student Night March 23. Each Student Corps member incorporated her GW experience into the tour: Junior Juman Kekhia wanted her tour of the Washingtoniana collection to highlight the history of places that she visits frequently as a GW student. Junior Madison Williams used her art history background to show how objects in the museum’s “Unraveling Identity” exhibition communicate political power and status across cultures.
“If students see the museum’s objects presented in a way that seems more relevant to them and what they’re studying, they’ll be a lot more likely to want to come back and get involved,” Ms. Williams said.
Ms. Shenfeld hopes the Student Corps will continue generating excitement for the museum. Already, the Student Corps members' interactive tours, including one dubbed the "House of Cards" tour, have been requested by campus groups and organizations holding programs at the museum.
“The Student Corps tour model of 'show not tell,' as well as its premise of providing a peer-to-peer experience, will hopefully provide a prospective on an exhibition that a student didn't expect and motivate him to come back again. I’m hopeful the current group's tours will set the groundwork for an institute within this museum moving forward,” Ms. Shenfeld said.