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Melissa Starker, Creative Content & PR Manager
Jan 25, 2021
With pandemic restrictions, we haven’t been able to welcome nearly as many people to the Wex as we’d like over the past year. But we have had the pleasure of welcoming back three former staffers who’ve returned to the center.
Jean departed the Wex in fall 2018 for program manager duties at a Buddhist retreat center in Vermont. She returned in the spring as our Education Department was undergoing a transformation; longtime Wex educator Dionne Custer-Edwards had moved into an interim leadership role, which has since been made permanent, and the department underwent a name change to better reflect its work: Learning & Public Practice.
“Dionne and I had stayed in touch and she reached out at the end of 2019 and said, ‘Would you consider coming back?’” Jean recalls. “It felt auspicious. I came back so I could learn from her.”
“Mostly I want to support Dionne’s vision in the Learning & Public Practice Department,” Jean adds. “I know that Johanna [Burton, Executive Director] is key in that as well, carving out the space for Dionne to shine and be as great as she is.”
In the past, Jean has spearheaded community programs such as the billboard and Story Book projects in which the Wex partnered with local artists and residents in the Weinland Park neighborhood. She was also an instrumental partner for the Film/Video team on the annual Zoom Family Film Festival, and she’s assumed that role anew as the fest has transitioned into the virtual space. Some of her work on Zoom 2020 is on view here.
Jean was crucial to the creation of Free Space, the gallery-based community initiative launched in the fall. Brainstorming is underway to consider how its idea of community-building through art can be worked into other Wex programs. She’s also taking the lead on maintaining a component of Free Space virtually through 2021: Office Hours, which will take place throughout 2021 on the last Monday of each month.
“Office Hours was something Dionne and I cooked up,” Jean explains. “I feel like the key to it is, it’s conversational. It’s not structured, you don’t have to register—just an hour to chat or listen. The focus of people featured are Wex staff and departments. If you want to talk to a curator, or about how one becomes a curator, you can come and ask. It’s just a way for anybody from anywhere to drop in and meet us, see who we are or what we do.”
“We can talk about work, but we don’t have to talk about work,” she adds. “The careers we’ve been in in our trajectory, there’s something average Joe about a lot of us [on staff]. We have different things we like and want to talk about. A curator can talk about their dog in addition to talking about the show they just curated, or cooking—the more mundane aspects of life.”
Jean’s also happy to be working with the community partners she knows and respects, and for the chance to develop new relationships with individuals and organizations in Columbus. She’s currently working to develop stronger connections between the Wex and local social service agencies, “using art as a tool to shift, engage, question, and explore.”
“I feel like Columbus is in a really interesting place nationally in terms of all the changes that are afoot: shifts in policing, shifts in dismantling white body supremacy,” says Jean. “I’m really honored and excited to support that work, what appears to be happening.”
Apart from the Wex, Jean, who has a graduate certificate in collections management and museum studies, works with individuals and institutions to properly handle, store, and inventory art collections, and advises people on best practices to start one.
A native of the Cincinnati area, Nick was hired by Ohio State as a Security Officer about three years ago, coming from a diverse work background that included retail, building management, and game designing. He spent two years guarding the galleries and other Wex spaces before being promoted to the role of Campus Protection Officer, in which he worked with the broader campus community. In November, Nick returned to the Wex following another promotion to Security Supervisor.
“I love the Wex. I really do,” Nick says. “I feel that the Wex’s mission is very important and especially now, organizations like the Wex may get overlooked because of the extreme [pandemic-related] danger to everyone all around us. But I think what we do is really important and I’m happy to once again be a part of it.”
As part of the Wex security team, Nick has received training from the International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection. “They work with museums and other properties all across the world and set the bar for protecting cultural assets,” he explains. “Everyone here is certified and I think we do a little better job than average. We just try to exceed the standard when we can.”
With in-person learning limited at this time, security staff has kept up certification status with online course work, according to Nick. “You’d think it’d be theft or vandalism, but one of the biggest dangers for cultural assets is actually fire. That is the most loss incurred on an international level.”
But the lessons Wex security staff take in aren’t limited to protecting artworks. “We actually see the galleries constructed and sometimes we get to meet the artists themselves, depending on how involved they are in the process,” Nick says. “We have our security walkthrough, but we’re also invited to the docent walkthrough. It’s very interesting and informative, but to be fair, when you’re standing in a gallery for eight hours a day, you tend to hear through osmosis. It usually takes me about three to four weeks in a gallery where I can pretty much give a docent’s tour because I’ve heard it so many times. If we seem engaged, it’s because we are.”
In her previous time at the Wex, Tracie led the way with programs including On Pause, Vets at the Wex and Art on the Brain. Then, in the fall of 2019, she was lured away from the Wex’s Education team by Wexner Medical Center and a newly created position: Director of Humanism in Medicine in the Department of Medicine Administration. As of November, Tracie has transitioned into a hybrid position, splitting her time between the hospital and the Wex, where she holds the new title of Director of Art & Resilience.
“My work at the Wex, even before I went to the medical center, sort of bled into some of the things I did at the medical center, so it’s been a continuity between the two places all along,” Tracie explains. “Part of what I do at the medical center is create programming for faculty, staff and students to stay resilient themselves. Especially now with these frontline teams, how do they stay OK after everything they’re dealing with? The Humanism and Medicine program uses the arts as a way to relieve stress and tap into their creative selves. So really, this idea of resilience is the anchor. But my roles at the different institutions allow me to look at various audiences. That’s the big shift; that and how you can engage the arts to support resilience skills.”
“I really look at resilience as a systemic thing, so you can’t really expect an individual to be surrounded by chaos and meditate and be OK. It’s not that simple,” Tracie says. “So I’m also interested in looking at resilience as a systemic thing. If you’re a doctor working on resilience, does that make you a better health care provider? I really try to think as best as I can about that, how the individual is impacted by their surroundings. What I do it does spread pretty cohesively in two spaces. They’re different pieces of the same big puzzle. I’m trying to find a way to put the pieces together, or find the pieces that are missing.”
In addition to continuing Vets at the Wex, Tracie is part of a program that will connect military veterans with medical students who’ll be trained to interview the vets, “so the med students will be learning about present and compassionate listening,” she explains. “What will end up happening is that the vets’ narratives will always show up in their electronic medical records. [Medical professionals will] get to know each of them as a whole person, not a list of symptoms.”
Tracie notes that like her work at the medical center, “the Wex’s programming really does look at the system. It’s social justice-minded, it looks at equity and how we can do better collectively to help us on an individual and societal/collective level.”
As an added benefit, “it just keeps me tapped into what’s happening,” she adds. “Having a foot in both worlds helps me inform both worlds, because it’s easy to slide into a bubble in the art world, and in healthcare. Interesting things could come out of the dual positions. [The health care documentary] A Place to Breathe, for example—it’s been sent out to all the med students and one of my student humanism groups. It’s being sent out to folks in integrative medicine. It’s helping to get Wex programming out to folks who might not realize what’s happening.”
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