Sep 19, 2018
Arts Council, Kluge-Ruhe

This Arts Council-funded Project is entitled ‘Permanent Exhibition for Kluge-Ruhe.’  The project was proposed by Margo Smith, Director of Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection

The Kluge-Ruhe Collection requested $10,000 from UVA Arts Council to produce new permanent exhibitions. The exhibitions in the entrance gallery and breezeway will provide foundational knowledge to students and visitors, helping them to understand Indigenous Australian art and culture. These exhibitions will “bookend” the permanent exhibition galleries that are being used with increased frequency to showcase student research on objects in the collection.

The current entrance gallery exhibition was developed by student interns and installed in 2012. Some of its components are either outdated or no longer serve their original purpose. Furthermore, the visitor evaluations of the current exhibition indicate that we need to include basic information about Aboriginal art in a more prominent way to fulfill our educational goals.

The breezeway currently functions as a path to the Kluge-Ruhe Study Center. Kluge-Ruhe proposed to use four wall panels for an exhibition that will focus on the history of Aboriginal people and their art including life and spiritual beliefs prior to colonization, stories of oppression and resistance, and the impact of Aboriginal art in the global art market.

These exhibitions will enable the Art Collection to make the most of our limited space and focus the exhibition content of our galleries on artworks in the collection and student research.

Staff will work with a local exhibition designer and builder, to design, manufacture and install the exhibitions. Two UVA student interns are conducting research and gathering the materials that will provide content for the exhibitions. The Kluge-Ruhe staff will work with the interns and the design and fabrication team to produce exhibitions that are high quality and meet the educational goals of the museum.

Partial funding for this project has been received from the Bama Works Fund and the Mellon Indigenous Arts Program. We plan to install this exhibition by the end of September 2018. We anticipate the life of this exhibition to be 6-8 years.

There are very few spaces at the University of Virginia where students encounter images of people of color. This is true also for museums, which are often considered elite, predominantly “white,” spaces and may seem unapproachable or unwelcoming to people from diverse backgrounds. When students enter the Kluge-Ruhe Collection, the first thing they will see are images of racially and culturally diverse Indigenous Australian artists. It is in the entrance gallery that visitors engage in conversations about identity and race in Australia and the United States. By openly discussing these ideas, Kluge-Ruhe invites students to reflect on any preconceived stereotypes or biases they have about Indigenous people. They also introduce the ideas of land ownership prior to colonization and the connection of Aboriginal people to “country.”

The breezeway exhibition will provide much-needed context for the artworks in the gallery. Because so few Americans have been exposed to Aboriginal art, student visitors have many questions about how old it is, how it came to be a contemporary art form, how Aboriginal people live today and their political and social situation in Australia. It is difficult to deal with these complex questions in exhibition or label text focusing on individual artworks in the galleries. By creating a separate exhibition to highlight this information, Kluge-Ruhe can keep the focus in the galleries on artworks and student research.

Two UVA student interns are assembling information and photographs for the exhibitions in the entrance gallery and breezeway this semester. Two UVA student interns will continue to work on this project during the summer.

The number of student visitors to Kluge-Ruhe increases every year. In 2016-17, 408 student visitors were tracked onsite as part of classes or conducting independent research. So far, in 2017-18, 324 student visitors have been tracked, so we anticipate between 450-500 by the end of the fiscal year. Over the course of the next eight years, assuming that student visitation increases every year, these exhibitions are expected to impact more than 5,000 students.

The entrance gallery exhibition will be the starting point for every museum visit and tour, and many programs including K-12 education. In the entrance gallery, visitors will “meet” Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and learn basic information that will assist them in understanding the art in the galleries. Museum visits and tours will conclude in the breezeway exhibition, where visitors will find additional information to further contextualize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and culture. One of the museum’s strategic initiatives is to attract and engage culturally diverse audiences in conversations about our world. These exhibitions will stimulate conversations with museum visitors about race, discrimination and social justice that are relevant cross-culturally and to the residents of Charlottesville following the events of Aug 11 and 12, 2017.

In 2016-17,  5,900 community members visited the Kluge-Ruhe Collection. So far in 2017-18 5,675 individuals have visited, and it is estimated that around 7,500 people will visit by the end of the fiscal year. With visitation increasing by 10% per year over the next eight years, we estimate that these exhibitions will be seen by more than 63,000 people.

As the only museum dedicated to the exhibition and study of Indigenous Australian art outside Australia, Kluge-Ruhe plays a significant national and international role in introducing students and other visitors to the art and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The exhibitions provide a point of entry for larger conversations that are applicable to Indigenous people and people of color worldwide and relevant to our society as a whole.

We have identified the following goals for these exhibitions:

1) To promote understanding that Indigenous Australians are contemporary, sophisticated and diverse.

2) To provide foundational knowledge about Indigenous Australian art and culture that will enrich the student and visitor experience.

3) To engage diverse audiences in conversations about current issues that impact Indigenous people and people of color worldwide.

Kluge-Ruhe’s education staff regularly surveys visitors after their visit, so that the museum can track what they have learned and ensure these goals are realized. We will gather qualitative data from tour leaders, docents and visiting artists to determine the effectiveness of these exhibitions.

The Arts Council provides advocacy, advice, and support in the Arts at the University of Virginia. It strives to develop and strengthen the bonds of interest and participation among the Arts Departments, their associated programs,  and their alumni and friends; to advocate on their behalf; to advise and assist with communications; and to help raise funds in support of academic programs, facilities, and special events. Among its multitude of arts advocacy efforts, the Council awards annual Arts Council Grants. These grants have, and continue to play an instrumental role in a number of  residencies, workshops, project and research-based endeavors proposed across Arts Grounds annually. This series of articles will highlight each funded project and serve to inform the UVA community of their unique timelines, progress and outcome reports.

See all 2018-2019 Arts Council Grants Awarded Arts Council Logo