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New Art History Maymester course has students explore local arts in the Triangle


Pop Box Gallery is one of several art spaces in the Triangle that was visited for Art History 290: Loving Your Local Art Scene. 

In Art History 290: Loving Your Local Art Scene, a special topics art history course, students explored grassroots art scenes in the Triangle. 

The two-week intensive course was offered to a small group of students for the first time this Maymester at UNC.

However, assistant professor Kathryn Desplanque said she hopes to establish Art History 290: Loving Your Local Art Scene in the course catalog and offer it in subsequent semesters. 

Much of the class was spent visiting over 20 different art sites, including artist studios, artist institutions, nonprofits and pop-up art spaces throughout the Triangle. At each space, students had the opportunity to talk to a person in charge about their role in the community. 

Desplanque is an assistant professor of 18th- and 19th-century European art, but she is also a practicing artist who exhibits in the area herself. She said that her art history background relates to the questions she asks of the art world as an artist.

“I’m really interested in thinking about how the arts navigate in a capitalist economic system," Desplanque said. “Part of the reason I study the 18th and 19th century is because this is the moment where we see familiar modern global capitalism emerge.”

She said that when people think about art worlds, they tend to focus on museums.

“Most artists start their careers and may spend their entire careers in their local art scene, but local art scenes aren’t really as visible to us,” Desplanque said.

The class created a structural sense of how the local arts community functions and collaborates, according to Desplanque.

One goal of the class is to help students interested in the arts learn what their future career paths could look like. 

Sophomore business major Kathryn Bolick said that the class changed her viewpoint of what field of business she wants to go into. 

“It’s interesting from a business perspective, seeing how all of these organizations operate, both in the creation of different exhibitions and behind-the-scenes work that allows these exhibitions to operate,” Bolick said. “Art has always been something I’ve wanted to become involved in, and you don’t really see a lot of art and business representation.”

Senior journalism major Nina Scott said that involvement with the local community is an enriching experience that students often miss out on. 

“Being able to apply my love for the arts and my love of making things accessible and digital media — with people doing exactly what I want to do, people who are building communities around what I love — it was a very wonderful experience,” Scott said.

Scott also said the class inspired her to become more involved in her hometown of Carrboro.

“Especially in the age of social media and after COVID, a lot of times I think that our generation is missing out on that community aspect of knowing people in person and doing events in person, so it was fantastic,” Scott said. 

Desplanque said that she also wanted the class to be a means of giving back to the arts community. 

“UNC-Chapel Hill is an R1 flagship university in this area,” she said. “I felt that we had institutional privilege that we could use to the benefit of this local arts community.” 

Another goal of the class was to compile the findings from these visits into an online local art map to share with the community and make these art spaces more visible.

The class is working in collaboration with geographic information systems librarian Philip McDaniel to design a map through ArcGIS StoryMaps that is accessible and sustainable.  

“She really wants it to be a kind of a living and breathing resource, something that’s not just going to be one snapshot of the local art scene, but rather something where there’s going to be new artists added, local artists, ones that have their own local art studios and all of the other resources that might be available,” McDaniel said. 

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The website will showcase sites the class has visited and will allow people to filter through them based on interest.

Desplanque plans for the map to go live over the summer and to add to the map each time she teaches the course. She is also applying for the course to receive its own course number and spot in the catalog for the fall semester.

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