AMAM, Student Leaders Host Shared Art Program to Welcome First-Years

New Student Orientation introduced a Shared Art element into its programming this fall, with the hopes of continuing the project in future years. The goal of the new initiative is to give incoming students an opportunity to engage with the Allen Memorial Art Museum, participate in meaningful conversations related to a specific art piece, build community, and demonstrate the ways in which Oberlin can help students develop their artistic literacy.

The program was designed and organized by the AMAM’s Assistant Curator of Academic Programs Hannah Wirta Kinney, former Assistant Vice President of Student Life Adrian Bautista, and eight College students. The student committee, consisting of individuals from an array of backgrounds and disciplines across the College, worked collaboratively with the Peer Advising Leaders program.

The Shared Arts programming was centered around one selected piece, “Grandma Ruby’s Refrigerator,” a photograph from a larger series by LaToya Ruby Frazier. The program organizers opted to focus on a single work, rather than considering themes across a whole exhibition, in the hope of encouraging students to digest the work through their own contextual lenses, instead of relying on comparison.

Frazier’s photography seeks to el- evate and humanize disenfranchised communities by depicting subjects with grace and empathy. Her images are loaded with personal and sociocultural insight, but it took her several years to find her voice. Kinney hopes that Frazier’s artwork will remind incoming students that it takes time to find who you want to be.

“The act of finding your voice and your impact isn’t immediate,” Kinney said. “I think sometimes when you’re a college student, and you’re thinking on a semester basis, that’s hard to realize … but actually this whole thing is an evolution, a change, a growth, and a discovery.”

In the process of selecting Frazier’s work, the students on the committee discussed their experiences with the AMAM, their own identities, and the conversations they hoped the artwork would spark. These discussions bore a common theme: the students felt that many of their peers were not aware of all that the AMAM has to offer. College- fourth-year Luci Williams, an Art History and Russian major on the committee, reflected on what she hoped incoming students would gain from Shared Art.

“I hope that they don’t just view the [AMAM] as where you go for class and constantly have this association between the museum and some assignment,” she said. “Instead, everyone can sort of find their own piece and peace.”

The first sessions of Shared Art occurred during Orientation. They con- sisted of a Shared Art Block Party and a session for students to discuss the art with their PAL group. During the Block Party on Thursday, Sept. 30, students had time to view the selected piece, talk with AMAM staff, socialize with other incoming students, and participate in activities related to the art piece.

After viewing the art ahead of time, incoming students met with their PAL groups to further discuss what they had seen. In these discussions, students reflected on what they noticed in Frazier’s piece and any feelings the work evoked. The goal of the small group discussions was not only to introduce the topic of identity, but also to closely examine how Frazier uses her photographs to highlight societal problems and inspire social change.

College fourth-year PAL and com- mittee member Mikala Jones thought the conversations with her PAL group went well.

“I feel like whenever you have the conversation [about a piece of art] — ‘What do you notice and what do you see?’ — there’s always new things that come up,” she said. “I felt like new students in my group brought up some really cool things I hadn’t thought about, even though I’d looked at the work a few times before.”

Although the art piece at the center of the Shared Art program will change each year, this year’s photograph will remain on display at the AMAM. Kinney hopes that members of the class of 2025 will continue to revisit Frazier’s “Grandma Ruby’s Refrigerator” and see the photo in a different light.