The Museum Studies class is curating an exhibit that focuses on Soviet-Jewish immigrants who left behind family, friends, language and professional identity to create a new life in Richmond, Va. beginning in the late 1980s and continuing through the 1990s.
The project stemmed from a documentary film project that Shir Bodner, Westhampton College '12, launched about Soviet-Jewish immigration to Richmond. "We have a lot of stories that we're honored to tell," said Samantha Byrne, a student in the class. "Negotiating how to aesthetically convey these tales is difficult, but for someone who likes both history and art, it's really exciting."
The ultimate goal of the class is to curate an exhibit across three venues: Lora Robins Gallery, the International Center and in downtown Richmond, Byrne said. The students are visiting local museums and meeting with the immigrants.
Professors Elizabeth Schlatter and Laura Browder co-teach the Museum Studies class of 10 students. The class is made up of art history majors and non-majors. "We are the students' project managers and are there to help with content," Schlatter said.
"The teachers are knowledgeable and have a lot of experience, but they are really there to guide the students," Byrne said. "It is our job to market, promote, plan, curate, organize and set up the entire event."
Both current and former students have taken part in organizing the project, which "marks the resurgence of Jewish studies at the university," Browder said. "The students are deeply engaged in the project and are coming up with new ideas all of the time," she said.
Byrne said she particularly enjoys hearing the immigrants' stories, and finds it to be the most rewarding part of the project. "One of the most captivating stories was of a woman who hid underground from the Nazis as she listened throughout the night to the mass shootings of her neighbors and friends," Byrne said. The woman now lives in Richmond and is still shocked that the government gives her food stamps and benefits.
"We hope and expect that the exhibit will attract both the university community and the Richmond community as a whole," Schlatter said. "Our greatest hope is that the immigrants will come see it."
The opening is at 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5 in the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, University Museums and the Carole Weinstein International Center Gallery.
The exhibit will be open at all three locations from Dec. 5 through April 22.
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