Anthropology students curate public exhibit on StFX material life 

ANTH 492: Museums students on exhibit opening day. Front, left to right: Dr. Andrea Terry, StFX Art Gallery Curator; Olivia Conrad; Makenna Mestinsek; Fergus the service dog; Abbi Moran; Back, left to right: Aaron Staffen; Makoto Barnard; Adam Patterson; Emily Mak; Emily Henry; Dr. Meghann Jack, course instructor; and Mia Kelly. Missing: Olivia Leroux.

Students in ANTH 492: Museums, a senior seminar course offered by the Department of Anthropology, recently curated a public exhibit on StFX student experiences. Campus Culture: A Material Reflection on StFX Student Life was installed in a glass vitrine in Mulroney Hall. Working in partnership with the StFX Art Gallery, students planned, researched, designed, and installed the exhibit, which ran from April 12th to 19th. 

“While the museums course focused largely on critical issues, I felt it was important that students also had a sense of the practicalities and challenges involved in museum curation,” says Dr. Meghann Jack, the course instructor. “The exhibit was a great opportunity for students to apply theory to practice, and think about the ways everyday objects can convey meaning and the role of the curator in mediating that meaning for the public.” 

Project planning began early in the semester with students brainstorming potential exhibit themes and pairing off into smaller groups to develop sub-themes. The material life of StFX students was chosen as the class wanted to curate an exhibit that engaged a wide campus audience. Dr. Jack says the anthropology students then worked as a team to acquire objects for the exhibit as well as write interpretative text and object labels. They also photographed the objects and curated a digital exhibit component for the StFX Art Gallery Instagram page, which is still available to view. 

Students also benefitted from the curatorial guidance of StFX Art Gallery Director, Dr. Andrea Terry, says Dr. Jack. 

“I’ve been fortunate to be invited to collaborate with different departments on student-led projects,” explains Dr. Terry. “I appreciate working with students, both in the classroom and in the gallery. Collaborations such as these promote the importance of interdisciplinary research and the application of students’ studies into practice.”  

Many of the students enrolled in the course are interested in pursuing careers in museum management and curatorship, which is a professional career avenue for StFX anthropology graduates. 

“I developed skills in thinking critically about an exhibit’s role in representing culture and how we can use objects and writing to convey an inclusive, relatable, evocative, and respectful message,” says Makenna Mestinsek, a third-year anthropology major. “I learned what it takes to be in charge of conveying a narrative and how important it is to be reflexive in representation.” 

While students developed essential skills in museology that will assist them in applying for graduate programs and jobs, it was also an enjoyable and creative experience. “I built friendships with my classmates,” says Ms. Mestinsek. “I had a blast brainstorming themes for the exhibit, where we sat as a collective, sharing stories and laughing about our past few years at StFX.”

The exhibit also provided the opportunity for StFX alumni to reflect on the stuff of their own university experience. According to StFX Ceremonial Officer Dr. Barry MacKenzie, the exhibit “was a wonderful snapshot of student life and caused me to reflect a bit on how student life when I was here from 2003-2007 was different from (and the same as) what it is now.”