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For nearly 30 years, George Ciscle, curator-in-residence at Maryland Institute, College of Art, has mounted groundbreaking exhibitions, created community arts programs, and taught courses in the fine arts and humanities. As curator for Joyce J. Scott: Kickin' It with the Old Masters, Ciscle saw the opportunity to showcase the works of Joyce Scott through a deserving forum while providing a new model for the involvement of students and the community in the work of a living artist. A recent interview reveals his thoughts on the project:
"I always saw working on this project as the showcase for Joyce's work. That's always where it begins - the quality, the significance of the artwork that you want to share with others. Once you do that, you need to look at what tools you can use to access the audience. If you're talking about diversifying an audience, you cannot expect to have the old model of having the artwork without connecting it to people's life experiences in some way. Then you'll just appeal to the people who know and love art already - the converted.
"Joyce's work had always been segregated in terms of how people looked and experienced it. They never really saw the full picture of her and her work. It was always either in a certain medium, style or theme, or in relationship to African-American traditions. This was an opportunity for people -- whether or not they were familiar with Joyce's work -- to see the range and interconnectedness of all these different areas.
"Joyce was the ideal artist for this project. She has a history here in Baltimore of working with the community, being involved in residencies, working with all kinds of people. So the interests I had in terms of outreach, Joyce had already initiated. It wasn't like starting with an artist who says, "Oh, no! I've never worked in residence here. I've never worked with children." She's a member of the community. She's not an artist separate from her community. That, to me, was a second requirement, after ensuring the quality of the artwork. If we didn't have that, we would have had a beautiful retrospective of her work, but that's where it would have ended.
"I knew that the public would actually be able to meet her and see her and know her. Many people have stereotypes of what an artist looks like and sounds like. I felt it was extremely important for young people and my students too, to meet her.
"One of our goals -- which was addressed through a special Activity Center -- was to assist visitors in addressing the sensitive issues related to racial and cultural stereotypes raised by Joyce's work and to allow young visitors to experience firsthand the sensory richness of the artistic techniques she employs. Children were able to create personal memory jars similar to those in the exhibition. They could connect with the oral tradition that drives Scott's performance work and informs her visual pieces. And a 'touch and try' area provided hands-on displays of beadwork and other cultural techniques.
"Throughout the process of developing this exhibition, educational goals were of equal importance and parallel to artistic goals. The project's design presented an opportunity for Maryland Institute students to learn firsthand about the complex process of designing and mounting this kind of exhibition from the artist, from museum professionals and from college faculty. These students are eager to know the endless possibilities of putting on an exhibition and how to make choices that produce a meaningful experience for an audience. They will have an impact on how art is displayed in the future. They can be the agents of change. (See also
MICA Students: Working on the Inside)