A Public Collection as Open Access

Below is the tenth in a series of posts by participants in the Winter 2021 Open Pedagogy Fellowship, coordinated by the Mina Rees Library. Fellows will share insight into the process of converting a syllabus to openly-licensed and/or zero-cost resources, as well as their experiences in the Fellowship.

Alaina Claire Feldman is the Director and Curator of the Mishkin Gallery at Baruch College, where she also teaches in the MA Arts Administration program. She is a MALS candidate (Social and Environmental Justice Studies) at the Graduate Center.

Baruch College’s art collection primarily consists of works from the 20th and 21st century in a variety of media by over 200 artists. As the college does not actively have a collection fund, donations are made primarily through gifts of alumni and the Department of Cultural Affairs Percent for Art law which “requires that one percent of the budget for eligible city-funded construction projects be spent on public artwork.”* Because Baruch College is a CUNY school, this also means the collection is the property of the state and has a fiduciary commitment to enriching civic and community buildings and the people of New York who access them.

Students at Baruch College pass collection works on their way to class every day—an Andy Warhol here, a Juan Downey there, and a large sculpture by feminist artist Lynda Benglis greets them as they enter the atrium of the Vertical Campus on Lexington and 24th street. As director of the college’s Mishkin Gallery and professor in the Master’s of Arts Administration program at the college, I’ve piloted a new praxis course which allows students to take ownership of curating and producing narratives around this public collection. In this way, the voice of the institution, the City University of New York, is told through its student stakeholders rather than the administration. 

In many ways, the college collection is OER: freely accessible media that allows one to research, teach and learn from. The benefits of utilizing this public utility as a teaching tool are numerous, from public-facing scholarship to allowing the public to steward their own collection in a dynamic and egalitarian way. Furthermore, access to the collection is free and local and does not require a $25 museum ticket or a one-hour ride on the subway. 

The course I’ve created is analogous to CUNY itself: CUNY was founded as The Free Academy of New York, a radical educational project in 1847, and to this day is one of the most affordable higher education institutions in the country. It would only make sense then that the correlating course Contemporary Issues in Curating would reflect on such issues as open access, public art, institutional critique, and curatorial authority. This is why I applied to the Open Pedagogy Fellowship at the Graduate Center. The fellowship brought my attention to a number of open access resources as well as how to evaluate them. I also was able to connect with a number of colleagues to discuss the creative ways they were bringing such resources into their own disciplines.

Contemporary Issues in Curating is designed to prepare students to think through and respond critically to historic and emerging cultures of curating and museum cultures as they learn to criticize and also understand why certain museum apparatuses of collecting and display exist. It then offers them the opportunity to revise the college’s own practices, to not only imagine but to implement institutional change and memory from their own positionality. 

The course thinks through the processes of exhibition-making from intersectional, cultural, theoretical, and pragmatic perspectives, and proposes new modes of accessibility for more equitable usages and appreciation of the collection. Course readings are all free and are sourced from open access journals (including the CUNY commons), museum educational sites, the CUNY library, and through a number of other media including podcasts, online collections, and a number of other public institutions. Importantly, scholars from within CUNY as well as a variety of thinkers and practitioners from around the world are included on the syllabus. 

It is my hope that with this course, students become active agents and stewards of the commons of the collection. They not only use open access resources but they build one that can be viewed in perpetuity by their fellow New Yorkers.

Course Site: https://blogs.baruch.cuny.edu/curating/

* NYC.GOV, “The Department of Cultural Affairs Percent for Art,”  https://www1.nyc.gov/site/dclapercentforart/index.page

About the Author

Katherine Pradt is the Adjunct Reference and Digital Outreach Librarian at the Graduate Center.