The new student focus has introduced an element of shared art into its lineup this fall, hoping to continue the project in the years to come. The goal of the new initiative is to give incoming students the opportunity to engage with the Allen Memorial Art Museum, participate in meaningful conversations related to a specific work of art, build community and show how Oberlin can help students develop their artistic culture. .
The program was designed and organized by Hannah Wirta Kinney, Assistant Curator of Academic Programs at AMAM, former Assistant Vice President of Student Life Adrian Bautista, and eight college students. The student committee, made up of people from a range of backgrounds and disciplines across the College, worked in conjunction with the Peer Counselor program.
The Shared Arts lineup centered around a featured piece, “Grandma Ruby’s Refrigerator,” a photograph from a larger series by LaToya Ruby Frazier. The program organizers chose to focus on a single work rather than examining the themes of an entire exhibition, hoping to encourage students to digest the work through their own contextual lenses, instead of trust the comparison.
Frazier’s photography seeks to uplift and humanize disenfranchised communities by depicting subjects with grace and empathy. Her images are loaded with personal and socio-cultural insight, but it took her several years to find her voice. Kinney hopes Frazier’s work 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 student and you’re thinking on a semester basis, it’s hard to achieve… but in fact, it’s all an evolution, a change, a growth and a discovery.”
In the process of selecting Frazier’s work, the committee students discussed their experiences with AMAM, their own identities, and the conversations they hoped the work would spark. These discussions focused on a common theme: Students felt that many of their peers were not aware of all that AMAM has to offer. Luci Williams, a fourth-year college student majoring in art history and Russian on the committee, reflected on what she hoped new students would get from the shared art.
“I hope they don’t just see the [AMAM] like where you go to class and constantly have that association between the museum and a mission, ”she said. “Instead, everyone can somehow find their own room and their own peace.”
The first shared art sessions took place during orientation. It was a shared art party and a session for students to discuss art with their PAL group. During the Block Party on Thursday, September 30, students had time to view the selected work, chat with AMAM staff, socialize with other incoming students and participate in activities related to the work of art.
After viewing the art in advance, the incoming students met with their PAL groups to discuss more of what they had seen. During these discussions, students reflected on what they noticed about Frazier’s work and how the work evoked. The aim of the small group discussions was not only to introduce the topic of identity, but also to take a close look at how Frazier uses his photographs to highlight societal issues and inspire social change.
College fourth-year PAL and committee member Mikala Jones thought the conversations with her PAL group went well.
“I feel like every time you have a conversation [about a piece of art] – “What do you notice and what do you see?” – there are always new things coming, ”she said. “I felt like the new students in my group brought up some really cool things that I hadn’t thought of, even though I had watched the work a few times before.”
Although the artwork at the center of the Shared Art program changes every year, this year’s photograph will remain on display at AMAM. Kinney is hoping members of the 2025 class continue to revisit Frazier’s “Grandma Ruby’s Refrigerator” and see the photo in a different light.