The Ulrich Museum of Art is taking art to the classroom by building a classroom space inside the museum.
The new Dr. Sam and Jacque Kouri Collection Study Center offers Wichita State University students, educators and the community a place to experience the museum’s collection in an intimate and expanded way. The free public opening of the study center, and Ulrich Student Lounge, is from 1-3 p.m. Saturday, June 4.
“What museum research has found is that interacting directly with objects from collections provides an opportunity for students to engage in sophisticated inquiry,” said Jana Erwin, head of education for the museum. “Critical-thinking skills. Nuances. Comparisons and contrasts. It’s a way for students to engage in ideas and process through art, rather than about art.”
With the opening of the study center, visitors are offered access to almost all the museum’s collection – including items in storage – in a classroom atmosphere conducive to discussion and examination.
The Collection Study Center, located near the main entrance to the Ulrich, builds off of the museum’s Collection Portal, started in 2020, which offers digital access to the museum’s collection of around 6,700 art objects. The study center, formerly a conference room, connects to the Student Lounge and the updated areas are the first places visitors see when they enter the museum.
“Students are welcome to come in and have a little bit more of an intimate experience with art,” said Austin Storie, a senior majoring in studio arts with a concentration in applied drawing. “If there is something a student sees on our website that they think is cool, they can request to put it up and do a sketch of it, or take notes, or do studies on an artist that they not get to learn about in regular curriculum.”
Classes from a variety of disciplines visit the Ulrich to study art. The works of photographer Gordon Parks are used in English 101 classes. Students interact with the works of Parks. The Ulrich has 170 photographs of the Kansas-born artist in its collection. After the visits, students write a reflection paper.
In April, narrative artist Jos Sances discussed his printmaking and the art community in the study center.
“With a space like this, working with the students, their engagement is so much better,” Erwin said. “We use a format called VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies) that encourages very open-ended inquiry about ideas, what they see and what that means.”
Keith Pickus, professor in the Cohen Honors College, used the study center for two of his classes: Fact, Opinion and Why They Both Matter and History Beyond the Headlines.
“It’s a much different environment than in a gallery,” Pickus said. “You’re not just staring at one piece. (Erwin) has the students take a close look at some of the photos and get them to communicate what you see and really dive in deep. I’ve learned a lot just watching her run these sessions.”
The room features flexible display space for art, a resource library and computer access to the Collection Portal. With these tools, people can request items from the collection and set up classroom time for a discussion of the art on display.
“There is really an opportunity for anybody to come in here and learn,” said Sarah Kuffler, a senior majoring in studio art. “(Parks’) work really provides an amazing opportunity to take a look back in history. It really does engage anybody and everybody."