“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
– Edgar Degas
“What can we do to help the museum?” That was the question posed by a handful of art students at SUNY-New Paltz last spring. They had approached Sara Pasti, the Neil C. Trager director of the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art on campus. The students were all enthusiastic museumgoers themselves, but as Pasti explains, that’s not always the case with college students and their university art museums. “Students will come in for a course assignment, but one of the greatest challenges on any campus is getting students to just wander into the museum and see what’s there. Students are so focused on their studies and their social life that some of the other activities available on campus unrelated to those two things don’t always make it onto their list of priorities.”
Pasti’s reply to the students’ query was to ask them, “Do you think you would be able to help us bring students into the museum?” Their response was the formation of the Dorsky Museum Ambassadors, whose first effort to attract more students into the museum was “Art Collides,” a series of student performances created in response to the art on exhibit. The event was such a success last April – more than 150 students showed up at the museum on a Saturday afternoon – that it’s now being planned as a twice-yearly event. The second iteration of Art Collides will take place on Saturday, November 7 from 2 to 4 p.m. in the galleries of the museum. A reception follows the event. Admission is free.
This year, participating student performers have each chosen a work currently on view to respond to with original poetry, performance art or a musical composition. Two students will respond to the “Reading Objects” exhibit, three to the Jervis McEntee show and five to the “Stories We Tell: Hudson Valley Artists” exhibition.
Students Patricia Backman, Zoe Baker, Jessica Dow, Hannah Schaming and Jessica Lynn were the original Dorsky Museum Ambassadors. Lynn has since graduated, but since she now works at the Dorsky as weekend museum manager, she is able to remain involved in the second project from the standpoint of museum staff. Current student Danielle Epstein has joined the group.
“It has been a great experience for all of them,” Pasti says. “And they’re the ones doing all of the work. I’m there to provide feedback, but they’re producing the whole event themselves. The students came up with the idea of inviting other students on the campus to respond to the art on the walls; they came up with the name; and they did all of the promotion, met with all the student performers, discussed with them what they were doing, figured out who would go on and at what time and then promoted it through flyers, posters and social media.”
As future Art Collides events are planned, one each semester, “We’re hoping as they become upperclassmen and leave, there will be other students coming along to fill their shoes,” says Pasti. And that’s likely to happen. The Dorsky Museum Ambassadors have submitted an application to the college to become an official ongoing club at SUNY-New Paltz. Members will not only work on future Art Collides events, but also be called upon to act as student guides at exhibition openings and do other related museum activities.
“What’s so special about all of this is that this is so self-motivated,” Pasti adds. “These are students who just love museums and want to be involved in the work that goes on here, and they’ve taken complete ownership of it. They’re terrific.”
Art Collides, Saturday, November 7, 2-4 p.m., free, Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, SUNY-New Paltz, 1 Hawk Drive, New Paltz; (845) 257-3844, https://www.sunynewpaltz.edu/museum.