Student Night Brings Newcomers to Museum

The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum’s D.C.-themed event featured tours, trivia, silk-screening and more.

Freshman Nava Shaw leads students on a tour of the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum during Student Night.
February 01, 2016
Nearly 100 students turned out last Friday for the third iteration of the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum’s Student Night—and this time, the event boasted a D.C. theme, complete with free food from Ben’s Chili Bowl, tours of two Washingtoniana exhibitions and trivia about the city.
Student Night is becoming a bit of a new tradition at the museum. The first one happened back in March 2015, just after the museum opened. Staff members organized a second version for the fall show, “China: Through the Lens of John Thomson (1868–1872).” The museum plans to continue hosting the event in the future. 
For the third installment of Student Night, the museum came up with the theme of “GW Loves D.C.” and centered activities around the two latest exhibitions in the museum’s Woodhull House: “A Collector’s Vision: Creating the Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection” and “For the Record: The Art of Lily Spandorf,” which the museum co-produced and co-curated with the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. Both shows capture D.C.’s changing history over time. 
Lori Kartchner, the museum’s education programs coordinator, worked with a group of student volunteers, called the Student Corps, and gave them the opportunity to organize tours based on their own interests and experiences in the city. 
On the second floor of the museum, freshman and Student Corps member Nava Shaw stood with five students, surrounded by watercolor paintings. She had created a personalized tour of the exhibition “For the Record: The Art of Lily Spandorf.”
She kicked things off by asking a question: How do we document our lives today?
A collection of answers came back. “Blogging.” “Instagram.” “Snapchat.” 
Ms. Shaw explained that the artist in the exhibition, Lily Spandorf, was an Austrian-born painter who documented her own life through watercolor. Ms. Spandorf lived in D.C. during the 1960s, when the city was undergoing major transformations. She made it her mission to paint buildings before they were demolished and streetscapes just before they changed, thus capturing particular moments of Washington history through her art. 
The students in Ms. Shaw’s tour group scanned the room and stopped in front of Ms. Spandorf’s paintings, absorbing the images. They were all freshmen who, before Student Night, had never stepped foot inside the museum. They exemplify why the museum organized the event—to attract members of the university community who aren’t familiar with the space’s changing exhibitions and expansive collections.
“I thought it would be a bunch of fabric,” freshman Hillary Dale admitted. “But this is definitely more relatable than I thought, especially since some of the exhibitions are about D.C.”
For other activities, the museum let first-year graduate student Molly Kamph take the reins. She planned a bulk of the event last semester while interning at the museum. Ms. Kamph brainstormed trivia questions, designed a logo that students could silkscreen onto T-shirts and helped coordinate getting snacks from Ben’s Chili Bowl. 
“I got to try a million different things being an intern here,” she explained. “Especially with bigger institutions, you’re sometimes pigeonholed into your one project or department, but here, everyone works together quite a bit.”
Ms. Kamph even took on the role of trivia host when Student Night attendees gathered in the Woodhull House to test their city smarts. Ms. Kamph didn’t make the questions easy for competitors:  What congressional act resulted in the founding of D.C. in 1791? Where was Abraham Lincoln taken immediately after being shot by John Wilkes Booth in 1865? What year was the Woodhull House constructed? 
It was a tough battle, but three students who named themselves Team U Street emerged victorious. They took their winning picture with Big George, who also decided to stop by the museum and to check out different exhibitions.  
Sophomore Brigit O’Malley, another member of the Student Corps, said that throughout the event, she heard students exclaim how unique they thought the museum was. She explained that the evening illustrated the museum’s accessibility and diverse offerings. 
“The reason I wanted to be a part of this is because it makes the museum feel more relevant to students—it’s not such a disconnect between an institution at the university,” she said. “I think it’s a space that needs more attention because people always don’t always realize what a resource it is on campus.”
Curious about the answers in Molly Kamph's D.C. trivia? The Residence Act resulted in the founding of D.C. in 1791, Abraham Lincoln was taken to the Petersen House after being shot, and the Woodhull House was constructed in 1855.