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University unveils new grad program in museum studies

Beginning in the fall, the University will offer a new program in museum studies designed to address the evolving role of cultural institutions in global societies.
(Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

The 18-credit Museum Studies Program (MSP) is an interdisciplinary certificate program available to students who have been admitted, or are currently enrolled, in a graduate degree program at the University. Individuals who have received a graduate degree from an accredited institution within the last five years also are welcome to apply. Admission to the program, which is housed in Rackham, is competitive. Only 12-15 spaces open each fall.

Raymond Silverman, director of the MSP and professor of art history and Afroamerican and African Studies, says the small class size will encourage meaningful cross-disciplinary dialogue. The interdisciplinary nature of the program, he says, allows students to consider the museum from multiple theoretical and practical perspectives and then focus on the area of museum work that most interests them. Silverman encourages students pursuing careers in museums, arboreta, zoos, heritage sites, archives and the entertainment industry to consider the MSP.

"We're trying to create an open architecture for this program that will allow it to be as inclusive as possible," Silverman says. "We plan to tailor the program for each individual student and his or her particular career goal."

Those enrolled in the MSP will be exposed to a variety of learning environments.

"The Museum Studies Program restores a course of study that existed until about 10 years ago," says James Steward, director of the U-M Museum of Art and chairman of the steering committee that planned the program. "But the new program is much more cross-disciplinary, to engage all the museums and collections on campus. It involves faculty from all across the University, including but beyond the arts and humanities, in order to take best advantage of the kind of place this University is, as well as to create training for our students that simply is not available anywhere else."

Students will take a two-semester proseminar that considers a range of historical and theoretical issues associated with museums, and they will acquire an understanding of the varied nature of museum work, which includes education, design, architecture, administration and fundraising. The courses will be taught by a group of U-M faculty with expertise in a range of museum fields. This introduction, Silverman says, will lay the foundation for first-hand experience in the museum setting.

"We'll provide students with the knowledge and critical skills needed to deal with the challenges of working in a complex and quickly changing cultural institution," he says.

Following the seminar, students will have the opportunity to participate in internships in southeastern Michigan and elsewhere in the United States. Silverman anticipates many will pursue internship in major museums in this country and abroad.

"My vision for the program is that students will engage in local experiences and then move on to competitive national and international internships," he says. "As someone who has worked in Africa, I am very interested in museums there and in other parts of the developing world, and would be very keen on seeing students engage in internships overseas in those areas."

Silverman, who formerly directed the museum studies program at Michigan State University, is not only hoping to offer students valuable experiences, but also alter their perceptions of what a museum is and should be. He notes that changing demographics and broader programming have affected the modern cultural institution, and these changes should be reflected in museum studies curricula.

"I think that anyone who visits some of the country's more dynamic museums is really bowled over by the diversity of programs and activities," Silverman says. "Museums, in an attempt to become more accessible, have engaged in a whole new set of activities."

Silverman says the changing role of museums in the country's cultural landscape will attract students to the program. Hopefully, he says, the MSP will evolve into a museum studies institute, that in addition to training students will offer a research environment for students and faculty.

"When I arrived at U-M last semester I met with faculty from disciplines all over campus, and I was really impressed with the breadth of museum-related expertise," he says. "There are great resources here, and tremendous potential for growing a world-class museum studies program."

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