Designing the Museum: OSU Already Has a Museum of Art

All semester, we’ve been looking at aspects of museum design, with a focus, naturally, on the Postal Plaza building downtown.  Our excitement about the Postal Plaza is genuine—for the first time, OSU will have a place not only to store the Museum’s art collection safely, but to display it, for the benefit of students, community members, and visitors from out of town.

I think I can safely speak for my colleagues in the Architecture School and the College of Human Environmental Sciences as well as myself when I say we’ve focused on the Postal Plaza building because it is a tangible expression of the Museum, and because it has a clear mandate that students can work with. But as the semester draws to a close, I wanted to step back and think about the Museum as a whole—from my perspective as the Museum’s chief curator.

The word curator originally meant caretaker—and from the moment I became its curator, my first concern was for the care of the artworks in the Gardiner Permanent Art Collection. Although a few artworks were on view across campus and sometimes in the Gardiner Gallery, most were in storage. As we talked about how to improve storage, we talked about building—or at least, retrofitting—some new space.  At this stage, no one was talking about a museum, let alone envisioning the OSU Museum of Art. Nonetheless, we had our first requirement for a museum: the collection.

Museum staff member Topher Lundell during the installation of "Full Circle: The Evolution of Fine Art Printmaking at ULAE," in the Gardiner Art Gallery, January 2011. The exhibition included works from the Gardiner Permanent Art Collection as well as from the ULAE archives and the personal collection of Bill Goldston, BFA '66.

So what transforms our Collection into a Museum? Most people would probably say that a museum has to have galleries—it has a responsibility to display the work in the collection to visitors, as well as safely storing it for future generations. We thus discover our next two requirements for a museum: storage and display.

Lora with art registrar Topher Lundell, installing work by Willard Stone from the Gardiner Permanent Art Collection on the OSU campus.

The student projects we’ve been showcasing all semester reveal a third requirement for the museum: community. Almost every student design project (and not just the ones featured on the blog) included community-focused elements in their Postal Plaza buildings, from restaurants and gardens to galleries that could transform into party spaces and an auditorium. These spaces imply events, from live music to lectures, which bring the collection to life. Our fourth requirement for a museum becomes clear: programming.

Food catered by Sarah Ramsay, of Stillwater, for a Gardiner Gallery reception.

How, then, does a collection become a museum? It begins when that collection, already properly stored, becomes permanently displayed and interpreted through active programming that engages with the community—or communities—that it serves.

Artist Jenny Rogers giving a lecture about her video work at the Bartlett Center for the Visual Arts, in conjunction with the exhibition, "Perfect Surf," on view in the Gardiner Art Gallery, February 2011.

It occurred to me recently that, according to this definition, OSU already has a museum.

It follows from that realization that whatever happens next, we’re not building a museum, we’re radically expanding our existing one. Ten years from now, I hope we’ll have a museum that encompasses the Postal Plaza, the Gardiner Gallery, an on-campus Museum building, and a sharing program that displays collection objects across campus and with institutions around the world. I hope we’ll have a collection with 10,000 objects instead of 1,000.  Perhaps our greatest challenge as we move forward is to remember that the OSU Museum of Art, like every vital cultural institution, is going to be defined by its ability to grow and respond to the changing needs of its collection and its visitors.

Photos were taken by Shawn Yuan and Louise Siddons, OSU Museum of Art staff.

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About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
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3 Responses to Designing the Museum: OSU Already Has a Museum of Art

  1. Anne Collins says:

    Great posting, Louise!!

  2. Mark Cashion says:

    Also transforming the collection–>museum is this curator with vision for a world class art institution.

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