Free NYC Museum Exhibit Review

Free NYC Museum Exhibit Review

| Developed by Benjamin Gillespie, Department of Communication Studies, Baruch College, CUNY |

This assignment is used in my in-person and hybrid undergraduate seminar courses (20-30 students) in Communication and Women’s and Gender Studies as well as the Macaulay Honors seminars at Baruch (i.e. Arts in New York City and People of New York). The assignment would be ideal for any humanities courses engaging with arts and culture. For the assignment, students pick a FREE museum exhibit to review for class in approximately 750-1000 words which they will then post on our course site set up through CUNY Academic Commons. I usually encourage students to attend an exhibit in person for the full cultural experience, but if the course is fully online or hybrid, students might also consider a virtual exhibit. I also encourage students to go to a museum they haven’t been to before, if possible. I view this assignment as an opportunity for students to see what resources are openly available to them (and free!) as students studying in New York City. While many cultural institutions can be cost-prohibitive, there are many open to CUNY students that they are not aware of. Having students become interested in cultural institutions, regardless of their major, can diversify their analytical skill set and provide opportunities for personal growth and enjoyment.

 

The ASSIGNMent

Students begin the assignment by exploring cultural institutions that give free access to CUNY students and provide a list of the organizations that do so. I encourage them to sign up for the ID NYC program as well as for the Culture Pass program through the New York Public Library. These programs offer free admission to many cultural events and spaces. I also share with students information about the CUNY Arts Initiative as another opportunity to learn about free cultural exhibits and events in the city.

Students are then asked to select a museum exhibit that aligns with their interests and relates directly to the course material. For example, if the course is about gender, I ask them to see if they can find an exhibit that engages with gendered ideologies, representation, and/or critique. Before attending, students research the museum to gain background knowledge on its mission, history, and current exhibitions. Students should familiarize themselves with the exhibit theme, featured artists, historical context, and any other relevant material before attending the exhibit by looking at the museum’s website to find out more about its mission and vision as well as the specific exhibit they plan to attend Most exhibits have a dedicated webpage accessible by searching their website. I usually ask students to confirm their choice in advance based on a deadline set in the syllabus.

Students are evaluated on the depth of their analysis, clarity of expression, incorporation of course concepts, and engagement with the museum exhibit. In class, I have students discuss their review and what they focused on with other students and do free-writing activities after they have visited the exhibit to prepare them for writing the review on their own. I also offer previous student examples (provided with permission by students) to inspire them.

Once students have handed in their reviews, I grade them and send feedback. Students then have a chance to revise their reviews and resubmit them. Often, I incorporate a peer review process into this as well. Once the reviews are complete, students then post their assignments onto our course website blog page, set up for free using CUNY Academic Commons (https://commons.gc.cuny.edu/). Reviews should be posted with 1-2 photos taken by the students (if taking photos is not permitted, students can find images online and provide photo credit)Students are required to read each other’s reviews and comment as part of the assignment. They must read and leave a comment on at least 3 other student reviews. They are also encouraged to share the blog link on their social media pages for public engagement (this is optional). The blog page acts as an archive for the class and serves the OER mission.

The museum exhibit review writing process, and observing other students’ reviews, encourages an interactive learning experience in the classroom. In addition to having students read these reviews on their own, we also look at the site together in class. In addition, students do short presentations of 2-3 minutes on their chosen exhibit once they’ve completed their reviews. They also have the option to focus their final research paper for the course on their chosen exhibit (or an object within the exhibit) if they want to do additional research.

This assignment promotes a culture of active learning as students must experience an exhibit, review it, and then engage with others in the class about their experiences. Moreover, the course webpage acts as a free and open archive that documents their experiences.

the Museum Visit

I ask students to spend no less than 1 hour at their chosen museum exhibit. During their visit, students take detailed notes on their observations, reactions, and any significant details they encounter to use for their review later based on the outline provided below. I encourage students to engage with the exhibits critically, considering factors such as artistic techniques, historical significance, cultural context, and identity. Students should also document their findings through photographs (if permitted) or by keeping any ephemera they receive (such as a program or brochure) for reference later. Students should also seek out any relevant materials provided by the museum, such as brochures or exhibition guides.

I remind students that the review assignment is a reflection based on the museum exhibit they visited, not a recommendation of whether someone should attend or not. Students should analyze and interpret the artworks or artifacts they encountered in the exhibit, discussing their significance and relevance to the course theme and why they are important more broadly to cultural history. This can also be personalized, and I encourage students to connect it to their own life experiences, if possible. I further ask students to connect their observations to broader themes discussed in class.

Students are given an outline template (see below) for writing a review that is well-organized with clear introductory, body, and concluding paragraphs. I specify the length requirement for the reflection paper as 750-100 words (though this can be changed as necessary for individual course needs). I provide guidelines for formatting, including font size, spacing, and margins to students as well.

I also ask students to include photos they took at the museum (if permitted) during their in-person visit (or screenshots if they are visiting an online exhibit). If they are not permitted to take photos, I ask students to link photos from the exhibit itself or that they find online when describing specific materials. I remind students to proofread their work for grammatical errors and coherence before submission.

 
Supplemental materials

You can give this document to your students to guide their review writing. It is licensed CC BY-NC-SA, so it can be edited to suit your course and assignment goals.

 

Faculty Information

Benjamin Gillespie (PhD) is a Doctoral Lecturer in Communication and Women’s and Gender Studies at Baruch College. He specializes in professional communication, gender studies, theatre and performance studies, and media studies. He earned his PhD in Theatre and Performance from The Graduate Center, CUNY.

 

Licensing Information

CC BY-NC-SA license The Free NYC Museum Exhibit Review & Blog assignment is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Openly licensed but not OER - Look out for restrictions on modification and/or redistribution. The Free NYC Museum Exhibit Review & Blog assignment created by Benjamin Gillespie is openly licensed but not OER.

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