Museum studies students shine as Museum of Broken Relationships Indianapolis exhibit opens

University research can have a huge impact in the life of a student and the IU School of Liberal Arts Museum Studies Program is excelling in providing research opportunities that are greatly enriching its undergraduate and graduate students. Several Museum Studies students are taking part in a new academic challenge and discovering their passion for community-engaged research.

The Museum Studies Program is partnering with the Museum of Broken Relationships (MBR) and members of our local communities to create The Museum of Broken Relationships Indianapolis, an interdisciplinary project featuring an exhibition and related public programs that will open for viewing at the Herron Galleries February 8 through April 22, with additional sites throughout Indianapolis.

The Museum of Broken Relationships Indianapolis is a global, crowd-sourced project that gathers anonymous donations and stories of experience with love and loss from around the world. While MBR has a brick-and-mortar museum in Zagreb, Croatia, MBR’s co-founders Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišič take their concept on the road, globally, to create community-based, local exhibitions that each blend community donations and themes with those from other countries in thought-provoking ways. Each exhibition becomes a unique exploration of love, loss, and growth by merging individual, communal, and universal perspectives.  

Building a team

Museum Studies faculty members Lois H. Silverman and Laura M. Holzman are leading the project, which features a team of students, community partners, and IUPUI faculty and staff. “We’re able to develop this multi-layered project thanks to generous support from Edgar and Dorothy Fehnel, Herron Galleries, and the IUPUI Center for Service and Learning”, said Dr. Laura Holzman, Associate Professor and Director, Museum Studies Program and Public Scholar, Curatorial Practices and Visual Art.

This collaboration builds on Dr. Lois H. Silverman’s long-standing work with MBR, begun through The Social Work of Museums (Routledge 2010), and her course-based partnership with MBR last fall. The project exemplifies the collaborative, applied, and community-engaged approaches at the heart of the IUPUI Museum Studies Program. “We are proud and honored to be the first Museum Studies program in the U.S. to partner with the Museum of Broken Relationships,” said Dr. Lois H. Silverman, Professor and Public Scholar of Museum Education.

Students are leading the way

Graduate and undergraduate students are playing important roles in every aspect of the project. Thanks to a generous grant from the Office of Service and Learning, three Museum Studies MA students have been appointed this year as Community Engagement Associates (CEAs). Marissa Hamm serves as Programs and Project Management CEA, Emily McMath serves as Evaluation CEA, and Shelby Riley is fulfilling the role of Exhibits and Marketing CEA. All three will graduate this spring.

“Working with the Museum of Broken Relationships Indianapolis project as a graduate student has pushed the creative boundaries of my museum practice and opened my eyes to how museums can truly be community-centered”, said Marissa Hamm, museum studies graduate student. “The Museum of Broken Relationships has made me feel closer to the global community in which I live. We are less alone than we think and MBR can help us learn from and laugh about the ways that we all experience love, loss, and growth throughout our lives.”

Many more students have been involved in the project through three different Museum Studies courses. Students in Dr. Holzman’s Fall 2022 Curatorial Practices course (cross-listed between SLA/MSTD and Herron) directly contributed to creating the exhibit. In addition, they invited individuals in the Indianapolis region to donate objects and stories of broken relationships, which will now become part of the Museum’s global collection. They worked with MBR to help identity the themes and objects of the Herron Galleries exhibit, and they also curated satellite displays – small branches of the exhibit that will appear at sites across campus and Indianapolis.

Graduate and undergraduate students in Dr. Silverman’s Fall 2022 Museum Education course (SLA/MSTD) worked with the Museum of Broken Relationships and local partners to develop a series of public programs and related educational resources for the exhibit. These public programs will take place on and off campus throughout the run of the exhibit. From “A Fair of the Heart” on the evening of February 14 at Herron galleries to “Social/Action: A Closing Celebration” on April 22, these programs offer audiences more opportunities to creatively engage the project themes of love, loss, and growth.

This semester, students in Dr. Silverman’s Museums and Audiences course (SLA/MSTD) will be helping to implement an IRB-approved evaluation study of the ways in which visitors interact with the exhibit and programs, and the overall project impact.

Across all three courses, students are strengthening key museum skills as they help to bring the Museum of Broken Relationships Indianapolis to our campus and community.

To learn more about the project from the students’ perspectives, check out their posts on the Museum Studies Program blog.

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