Left to Right, Michelle Cheng, MA ’10; Kameko Branchaud, MA '14, Dr. Paul Sproll
I was, for a number of years, a member of the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s Education Committee as well as an adviser to its Summer Design Institute for teachers, so knowing I would be teaching the 2015 MAT Wintersession course, Design Education Studio Workshop, I reached out to the Cooper-Hewitt to see if it would be possible for my class to visit, especially as the Cooper-Hewitt had just recently re-opened after a 3-year renovation of the Carnegie Mansion. I am delighted to report that my contact at the Museum was TLAD alumna Michelle Cheng, MA ’10, Manager of Professional Development Programs, who very graciously agreed to schedule a guided tour for us. So, this last Wednesday, along with my TLAD faculty colleague Kristina Sansone and 11 students, we made a day trip to New York to visit and experience the Cooper-Hewitt in ways, candidly, which would be unfamiliar to anyone who had previously visited this important museum of design.
On arrival, we were greeted by Michelle Cheng and Kameko Branchaud, MA ’14, who had just a few months ago joined the Museum as an Education Assistant. I am not afraid to admit to a great sense of pride as these two alumnae so professionally, confidently, and knowledgeably provided us with insights into how the Museum’s exhibit designers, curators, and educators were using installation strategies, digital technologies, physical experience and carefully crafted text panels to deepen visitors’ understanding of objects in the Museum’s collection. I also have to say that it was wonderful to see how, in both cases, our TLAD alumni were in their professional work connecting to themes and ideas first explored in their MA theses. For instance, in the abstract that prefaces Michelle’s 2010 thesis, “Art on the LCD Screen: The Impact of Digital Technologies on Museum Education”, she stated “This thesis explores how Web-based resources such as museums’ online exhibitions and online galleries in particular are, as a result of their digital nature, redefining the possibilities of museum education and tapping into the learning potential that digital technologies offer.” And, in the case of Kameko’s 2014 thesis, “Beyond Dialogue Socially Engaged Art as Public Platform”, though its focus was the fine art and not design, her plea for relevance most certainly resonates in the context of her current work at the Cooper-Hewitt when she stated “I would like to create art experiences that make the arts accessible, that are inclusive not exclusive.”
I encourage all MAs during their thesis research and writing process to embark on a study that will have a life beyond their graduate studies and, if they do so, there will be strong likelihood that it will have the potential to one degree or another to shape their professional practice and effect change. It is only too clear that Michelle and Kameko have embraced that challenge
Irene Bednarczyk, MAT ’15 in the midst of:
Damian Ortega, 2007, Controller of the Universe,
the centerpiece of the Cooper-Hewitt’s TOOLS: EXTENDING OUR REACH exhibit.
Paul A. Sproll, Head, Department of Teaching + Learning in Art + Design