Art Magnified: Unm Art Museum

Director Arif Khan Unpacks The Unm Art Museum’s Importance

Maggie Grimason
3 min read
Visual Learning
(Courtesy of the UNM Art Museum)
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Alibi: Why is it vital to have a museum on-campus?

Khan: University art museums can do things that larger municipal or private museums cannot. What kinds of things? More intellectually risk-taking exhibitions; real engagement of students in creative and meaningful ways that have the potential to nurture life-long lovers and supporters of the arts; meaningful involvement of faculty across disciplines, that can lead to a broader understanding and appreciation of the key importance of art and visual culture in civilizations and cultures throughout human history; and new ways of thinking about collections, experimentation with new media in partnership with related university disciplines and resources, and the building of important collections in new areas not yet recognized by larger museums.

How does the museum aim to inspire and improve the lives of students and other Albuquerque residents?

Campus museums, not just art museums, provide a space where the community can engage with the university. They are one of the few places where students, faculty, alums and the public can all gather. We hope our exhibitions and collections spark conversations not only in art and art history courses, but across disciplines and departments, too.

What kind of things do you have coming up this school year at the museum? Anything that you personally are very excited about?

What I’m really excited about it is the variety in our exhibitions and programs this year. We are making a long term decision to highlight our amazing permanent collection of over 30,000 objects with HINDSIGHT/INSIGHT [opening Aug. 24]. Over the next few years we’ll be rotating those artworks in our largest gallery and engaging our audience with the museum’s history of collecting. We hope that this exploration of our history informs the directions we take the museum in the future. … Flight is an installation by local artist Sheri Crider that examines connections between empathy, personal transformation, mass incarceration and migration. … Finally, we are proud to represent New Mexico by participating in the national For Freedoms – 50 States Initiative which is described as the “largest creative collaboration in US history.” Faculty and students … will create diverse programming and educational opportunities focused on a range of topics exploring art, politics, freedom and civic discourse leading up to the mid-term elections this November.

What do you learn by working in such an environment everyday?

Where to begin! Our staff is always discovering hidden treasures in our collection. Besides the objects themselves, I love learning about the stories behind how they ended up in the museum’s collection. I enjoy learning about the impact that the museum has had on people’s lives. I have met many alums and Albuquerque community members who have shared stories about the museum and the positive impact it’s had on them. It is a pleasure having so many UNM students work at the museum and their feedback on our exhibits and programs is key in how we want to engage students across campus. Due to these informal conversations with students we have decided to start a student council for the museum so we can ensure that student voices are always present.
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