November 26, 2018
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In the fall of her first year at Kenyon, Vahni Kurra ‘20 experienced “The Visitors,” by Ragnar Kjartansson, at the Gund Gallery. The piece features ukuleles, bathtubs, poetry, and 64 minutes of haunting music. “I just came in and saw it, and I thought, ‘if this is the kind of stuff the Gallery is showing, I want to be working here with those pieces.’” Fast forward a year and a half later, and Kurra is one of the 59 Kenyon students who make up the Gund Gallery Associate Program.
Although Kurra and her coworkers are undergraduates from different academic disciplines, each has an important role in the Gallery. Kurra works with the curatorial team, whose voice comes through in several Associate-curated, spring exhibits: “We work on curating exhibitions, so we write the labels, we contact artists about usage rights… It’s really a lot of the details, and also what the main themes of the show will be and what we hope the public will get out of it.” The Gallery’s staff begins with an idea or a piece from their collection, and it’s up to the Associates to fill in the rest. “We’re involved in every aspect of the Gallery’s operations,” says Kurra.
Every fall, the Gund Gallery hires Kenyon students with an interest in art and a knack for communicating. The most important part, though, is a willingness to learn. “Being able to learn quickly is a big thing, because Associates do so many different types of jobs,” says Kurra. The Gallery assigns Associates to several pre-professional teams focusing on each of the Gallery’s functions. Kurra, whose team helps curate exhibitions, says, “I’ve learned what it takes to get an exhibit off the ground and running. It takes a lot, but it’s really interesting.”
The benefits of learning on the job don’t disappear when an Associate graduates. Alumni of the Associates program go on to hold internships at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian, and the Museum of Modern Art. A robust alumni network offers Associates the opportunity to explore openings at institutions all over the country through connections made on the Hill.
Associates who don’t intend to pursue a career in the arts or museum work can also gain valuable skills from the Gund Gallery that translate to the workplace. “You have students approaching from a lot of diverse perspectives. It takes a lot of different people to come at problems and projects differently and make them reach a wide audience that isn’t just art lovers,” says Kurra, an English major who regularly lends her writing skills to the Gallery. Flexibility, collaboration, and adaptability are just a few of the program’s takeaways.
Although the Gund Gallery is small in comparison to institutions in urban areas, it can offer a unique experience for visitors. “The only difference is the scale; what you’re doing at the core stays the same,” says Kurra. “You can interact with the art in a way you wouldn’t get to in a bigger museum.” Part of the Gallery’s mission is to engage the Kenyon and Knox County communities, which the Associates work towards through cultural celebrations, social media, and local exhibition opportunities like December 2017’s Pop Up Show at the Wright Center in Mt. Vernon.
The Gallery offers continuous opportunities for community involvement, including the upcoming photo exhibition “Knox Cadence: Scenes from Our Community.” Knox County residents, including Kenyon College students, can enter up to five digital photos to be judged. The deadline for submission is March 2nd, and the exhibit will begin on March 19th. Those interested in local photography can also experience “Rania Matar: Ohio Portraits,” which features work from the Gallery’s 2017 Mellon artist-in-residence. This semester’s Associate-curated exhibits include: “Stories of Self-Reflection: Portraiture by Women Photographers,” “An Interior View: Contemporary Cuban Photography by Arien Chang Castán and Leysis Quesada Vera,” and “‘Smash the control images:’ Idiosyncratic Visions in Late Century American Art,” all on view at the Gallery March 19th through April 19th.
By Amelia Yeager ‘20