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Ackland Art Museum staff tries more conversational approach

Galleries include interactive tours

Art can be intimidating, but by engaging University students in interactive tours in its galleries, the faculty of the Ackland Art Museum are working to make art more accessible.

Encounter Art, a new program beginning today at the Ackland, provides conversational tours by practiced student guides, offering a different, warmer approach to the gallery experience.

Unlike more conventional museum tours, the student guides will engage visitors in what museum staff said will be a more open and welcoming conversation.

“(The tours) include context and information about the artists and the art, but they are more about experience than information,” said Robert Colby, coordinator of academic programs at the Ackland.

The museum is currently hosting four special exhibitions, two of which will be used in the Encounter Art tours.

The four tours will cover depictions of the “Orient” by 19th century French artists, the Art Nouveau movement, Andy Warhol’s unique take on the concept of fame through art and the depiction of good and evil in works of art.

The guides were selected for their interest in art and the museum’s mission, guides said — but not all of them are majoring in art.

Two of the four tours will be held as part of the Ackland’s ongoing “Think Thursday” program. The museum extends its hours to 8 p.m. on Thursdays to attract a broader audience.

Graduate student Isabella Archer, tour guide for “Cleopatra and the East,” is focusing on Franco-Arab studies.

“Art can be very intimidating if it’s not something you’ve done a ton of research on,” Archer said. “The program is for the community, for the students, and led by students, so it’s much more comfortable.”

Archer began her work at the Ackland during the summer, conducting extensive research on artistic representations of the regions once known as the “Orient.” Her studies resulted in her current position as a tour guide — a position she’s held since early October.

“I think I’ll be doing it as long as I’m here,” Archer said. “It’s a fun way to introduce other people to art.”

Sophomore Isabella Cassell will be the guide for “Art Nouveau: Between Old and New” on Oct. 30.

“All of the tours we give are very conversational and interactive,” Cassell said. “We’re hoping to expand the program for next semester and get a lot of people involved.”

Kate St. John, a sophomore art history major, is leading the tour, “The Art of Being Bad,” which will draw on 17th century Dutch artwork to highlight the often-ambiguous portrayals of good and evil.

Last year at the Ackland, St. John received training on the social and participatory side of giving tours.

“It’s looking at art in a new way,” St. John said. “These tours are for everybody, not just art people.”

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