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A New View of Museums for a First-Generation College Student

Mon, Jun 30, 2014
Meagan Jones
Meagan Jones
Photo: Brandon Ballog

Ohio State student Meagan Jones lights up when talking about magnetic fluorescent nanoparticles and polymer spheres. You can see it in her eyes, and you can see it if you watch her TEDx talk online as she describes her work in Ohio State’s Koffolt Labs while still in high school.

And yet—she’s also a work-study student in the Wexner Center’s education department, is learning to give gallery tours, and has a double major in anthropology and medieval history, with a French minor. It seems her curiosity and interests span the arts, the sciences, and the humanities alike. A renaissance woman? Perhaps.

A first-generation college student from the west side of Columbus and the Hilltop, Jones didn’t think museums were for her at one time. “Before I worked here—and before I took Art & Environment [a high-school course at the Wex]—I thought of museums as inaccessible to people from my background, something we couldn’t access readily.” She remembers school field trips to museums, and the rules involved: “We couldn’t be too loud and boisterous, or too close to the artwork. These are sort of the defining features of a large family,” she says, laughing. Going to a museum, she thought, was “not something that we should be doing. Finding out that that was pretty wrong was a really amazing thing for me.”

In recent years, she’s taken a student docent training course at the Wexner Center, assisted at the center’s Zoom Family Film Festival, and interned in Franklin Park Conservatory’s exhibitions department—and her view of museums has changed radically in the process. Even the Wexner Center’s approach to guiding tours was revelatory—“asking questions and not just giving people information.” She also remembers learning from tours of Elliott Hundley: The Bacchae (2011), an exhibition that mined Greek mythology, a subject she knows something about. “I feel like, as a docent, you learn so much from your tour group. I remember every time I went in there, I would learn something new.”

She notes that “contemporary art, at least for me, in some fashion, also allows for the expression of minority groups. Not to say that historically, minority groups haven’t been able to express themselves through art, but I feel like in the exhibitions we’ve had here, we’ve showcased artists who haven’t grown up in the best of areas.” She says that in some of the art she’s seen at the Wex, it’s clear that the artists’ “life and perspective on the world is influenced by their socioeconomic status. I’ve come to appreciate that a lot more.”

And it’s not just visual art that has made an impact. As part of the docent course, a group of graduate students from Ohio State’s Department of Dance performed for the student docents-in-training. “We were trying to figure out what they were trying to communicate through dance,” Jones explains. “That was fascinating. They had a topic that they wrote on a slip of paper, and then they performed it three or four times. We looked at the full dance and at pieces of the dance. The topic that was on the paper was Alzheimer’s. We were all trying to comprehend what was going on, and people were saying, ‘There’s sadness in this movement,’ or ‘It seems like there’s something really wrong here.’ The dancers were trying to represent what’s going on in the brain, and what happens when someone can’t remember.” She adds, “It was really eye-opening. I’d never thought of taking a very sort of concrete idea—what’s going on physiologically—and trying to transform that into dance. It was amazing that we all got the sadness.”

Similarly, as part of Art & Environment (a course Jones took as a student at Metro High School), Wex educator Jean Pitman spoke to the group and “made me think very differently about how you can use art. I’d always done drawings and paintings, just as a hobby. I’d never really thought about the power behind and the message that can be contained in art—and now, even more so with social media and what that can do.”

Jones’s time at the Wex has influenced her thoughts about her future, even as she keeps her mind open to her various interests as she approaches graduation in 2015. “I want to do something that I feel is useful to other people in some way. I feel like with the people I’ve met here at the Wexner Center, there’s a really amazing common goal of exposing different kinds of people to art in a way that I don’t see a lot of.”


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