Art, Religion, And Cities

 
Buddah at Walters.jpg

Seated Buddha, flanked by Monk Devotees, -photography by Gabriella Souza

Featured in The Baltimore Magazine

While museums serve as repositories of the material culture of world religions, they are often ill-equipped to address questions about religion that animate the communities they serve. As histories of religious pluralism are being denied and often attacked in our country and around the world, how is the material culture of world religions being displayed and discussed in public spaces? Are cultural institutions, museums in particular, representing religion in ways that bolster divisive discourse around race, citizenship, and community, or can they offer ways to recover and reimagine our shared histories? Led by scholars and curators of religion, art, and material culture (Landau, Morales and Ziad), this student centered initiative explores the display of religious art to engage critical questions of race, justice, and community today, and connects university course offerings with public-facing conversations that navigate Baltimore’s urban context. Most significantly, this project addresses one of the key issues that plague cultural institutions at large, and especially museums: a lack of diversity within the workforce. In a 2018 co-taught class entitled “Pearls on a String: Artists, Patrons and Poets at the Great Islamic Courts,” Morales and Landau received feedback from students that evidences the vocational impact of course offerings that bridge universities and museums. An overarching goal of this initiative is to open the way for students at a prominent HBCU to consider careers in a museum and other cultural institution.

The proposed two-year scaffolded student-focused program includes: (a) four courses; (b) visits to local and regional museums; (c) introduction to a city and region-wide network of cultural and community leaders; (d) mentorship from a community of professionals at cultural institutions; and (e) stipendiary internships that give Morgan students additional work experience and training at museums and other cultural institutions.

The outcomes of this program are as follows: (a)  Students at a prominent HBCU will consider careers in a museum or other cultural institution; (b) Students will understand the museum as a public square in which contemporary civic and social challenges can be engaged through the medium of art; (c) Students will develop relationships across institutions, specifically Morgan State, Johns Hopkins, and the Maryland Institute College of Art; and (d) Students will build a professional network of individuals working at cultural institutions through field trips, mentorships, and paid internships.