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VPA students collaborate with local historic sites to propose design improvements
VPA students collaborate with local historic sites to propose design improvements March 29, 2006Jaime Winne Alvarezjlwinne@syr.edu
Students in Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts are using their design skills to suggest improvements to two historic sites in the Central New York community.
In two examples of the ways in which the University engages and exchanges with the local community, undergraduate students in communications design are working with the Harriet Tubman Home, Inc. in Auburn, and graduate students in museum studies have partnered with the Oneida Community Mansion House in Sherrill to propose design improvements to enhance visitor experiences.
Undergraduate students in Assistant Professor Iris Magidson’s communications design’s design project management course are working with the Harriet Tubman Home and the AME Zion Church, the not-for-profit owner and manager of the property, to propose exhibitions for the visitor center and design a self-guided walking tour of the site. The relationship is being facilitated through Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs Professor Douglas Armstrong and graduate student Anna Hill.
The students’ proposed exhibitions for the visitor center would utilize archeological and historical materials found on the property and would include information addressing a range of themes dealing with Tubman’s life, in addition to interpreting specific materials recovered during archeological surveys and excavations. Many of these excavations have been conducted by students in Armstrong’s anthropology classes and archeology workshops over the last several years. In addition, the students are designing plans for a self-guided walking tour of the site, including signage.
Magidson’s objective for her students is to create exhibitions that present a well-rounded, humanistic perspective on the story of Tubman, in order to excite and empower visitors to the home. They have specifically focused their design efforts on middle school children learning about Tubman, the Underground Railroad and mid-19th century U.S. history, in order to engage them with local history and think critically about social justice.
“This site has tremendous potential to serve as an educational venue to present both historical and archeological information on the life of Tubman and her associates,” says Magidson.
As part of their final practicum, first-year graduate students in the museum studies program have partnered with the Oneida Community Mansion House in Sherrill to design a new visitor center. Following an overnight stay at the house and meetings with staff, the students developed computer-aided drawings and three-dimensional models to illustrate their plans.
The Oneida Community Mansion House intends to implement student ideas when it redesigns the center. The proposed designs will assist guests by familiarizing them with the story of the Oneida Community and also serve as a meeting place for visitors participating in house tours. Keeping these goals in mind, students sought to create a welcoming educational environment that would be accessible to people of all ages and abilities.
“Museum studies graduate students are aspiring museum professionals who assume a variety of roles to gain hands-on gallery experience and serve their community,” says Bradley Hudson, adjunct professor of museum studies. “The Oneida Community project was a valuable lesson in exhibition design in which the students gained valuable, real-world experience and brought a fresh perspective to an established, community institution.”
To thank the Mansion House for its assistance and insight, students participated in a “polishing bee” during their overnight stay. The Oneida Community possessed a strong work ethic and believed in shared labor. In keeping with this mission, students worked together to polish wooden furniture in the house’s lounge before returning to Syracuse to develop their design concepts.