Our Education team is integral to extending the reach of our multi-disciplinary programs to audiences both in and out of schools. We are delighted to shine a spotlight on our educators as part of the Wexner Center’s 25th anniversary celebration.
Amanda Potter, educator for public and university programs since 2006, sat down with Development Assistant Diana Gerber to talk about reaching audiences through programming at the Wex.
DG: Tell me about the programs you run and your goals for them.
AP: My primary responsibility is organizing opportunities for further learning and engagement with the exhibitions, film and performing arts events that we offer. We have the great privilege of primarily working with living artists, and so I see it as a real imperative to give our audiences opportunities to hear from artists about their work directly. I like to give people opportunities to see that artists are real people, thinking about the same issues that we all are. And that it’s work! They go to their studios and it’s a job. One program I run is called Double Take, which brings together different OSU faculty perspectives on a Wex exhibition. For example, several years ago, we had a show of work by David Smith, an important American sculptor who was a lifetime member of the United Steelworkers union. So I brought together the director of the OSU Welding Engineering program, who talked about technological changes that he could see in Smith’s sculptures, and a professor of labor history, who talked about the union and what that meant for Smith to belong. One of the primary goals that I have for my programs is for people to come away feeling a connection with the artwork or the artist. They don’t have to like it, but hopefully they understand what was generating it, what the artist was trying to communicate. I tell students that if [the current exhibition] isn’t speaking to them, come back. The next thing might. I also really want students to understand that creativity is something that is really important for everyone, whether you are an engineer or a biologist or a journalist.
DG: Can you tell me about a top moment has been during your time here at the Wex?
AP: One of my favorite moments was the Director’s Dialogue on Art and Social Change in 2012, around a film called Return by Liza Johnson, an Ohio-born filmmaker. This was a fictional film but about a very real issue: how veterans reintegrate into home life after serving. After screening the film, we had a panel discussion with Liza and advocates for veterans. The conversation was powerful and emotional, and the film became a stimulus to talk about a lot of very important issues.
DG: How has your understanding of art education changed since starting at the Wex?
AP: I very much wanted to work at a university-based institution after getting my master’s in art history. College is one of those last moments you have to play around with who you are, and maybe get exposed to things that you didn’t in your upbringing. You have so many opportunities and choices. Coming here I was just amazed at the size of this place and how many choices students have. A number of students come here with very little art education. Maybe they’ve never been to a museum, maybe they’ve never been to a live play before. So I feel very strongly about reaching students so that they don’t become adults who think that museums don’t have anything to offer them. Of course, because students do have a lot of choices (as well as obligations and responsibilities), a persistent question is how do we best help them to see us as a worthwhile place to visit?
DG: This is a wonderful fit, then. What brought you to the Wex?
AP: Well, as mentioned, I did want to be at a university-based institution. And I’d seen Shelly Casto, our director of education, speak at a National Art Education conference, talking about dealing with controversial art and teenagers. She really struck me as a brilliant person with some great ideas. So I remembered her when I saw the Wexner Center job posting.
DG: What are some of your favorite artworks in any discipline that you wish that you could share with others?
AP: There are two things that come to mind. My true favorite type of artwork is actually 17th century Dutch paintings, like Vermeer and other genre painters. I love that work because it was the one of the first moments where there was an expanded market for art beyond the church or royalty. Artists were making work that was trying to speak to contemporary life, to gossip and morals. I love works that tell stories and that are politically or socially conscious. So a contemporary work that jumped to mind when you asked that question is Scorched Earth by Mark Bradford. It is a really powerful work about the little-known 1921 Tulsa race riot, that made me personally aware of this shameful moment in American history and opened the door to talk about race relations today in the US. So that’s one that I loved working with.
DG: We do show a lot of powerful work. Thank you very much for sharing your insights!
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.