Program updates and support

As we enter the holiday season, I would like to take the opportunity to reflect on a momentous year marked by political change and a pandemic that is still raging on. As you know, Covid-19 has severely affected our operations since March, including our classes and internships as well as our event planning. A program such as ours, whose educational philosophy is bound to museum visits and “hands-on” experiences with museum collections and professionals, has been hit especially hard. While we are still worrying about the consequences the pandemic will have on the museum profession at large, I am happy to report that the Museum Studies Program has persevered despite these challenges. We have reinvented ourselves in digital formats and even enjoyed a few blessings of online programming such as being able to welcome some of you who reside outside of Ann Arbor as part of our digital audiences.

During this tumultuous year, MSP has also seen a change in leadership. In July, I took over the baton from Margaret Hedström to begin a 3-year term as director of MSP. I am honored and thrilled to serve the program in this capacity. A particular delight has been the MSP proseminar that is typically run by the director each fall. Working with this year’s highly energetic and interdisciplinary cohort of Certificate students has been the highlight of my teaching career! The students’ excitement for learning about museum histories and the profession’s present challenges across disciplines has been palpable throughout the Fall term – even across the physical distance that divides us among our various computer screens. MSP also welcomed a new Assistant Director, Deirdre Hennebury. Deirdre follows in the footsteps of Brad Taylor who, over 23 years, shaped the program with his warm and tireless commitment to our students as well as to museums on campus and in the region. He successfully led our internship and capstone programs and helped ensure an MSP student completion rate unmatched by any other U-M certificate program. It was only fitting, then, that when Deirdre, Amy Smola and I organized the first ever virtual MSP event, it was to celebrate Brad’s career and retirement. The gratitude for Brad’s work expressed by friends, colleagues and students near and far, including many MSP alumni, only confirmed and heightened our own sentiment of a bittersweet parting.

To assure that we continue to learn from Brad and make sure that he does not forget us too quickly, we invited him back shortly after the virtual retirement event to present his research on The Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village. The brown bag event put Brad in conversation with one of our most recent graduates, Calder Fong (MSP 20) who completed his internship at The Henry Ford this Spring. In November, two further MSP students, Grace Mahoney and Félix Zamora-Gómez (both MSP 16), shared their international doctoral research on present museum politics in Kiev, Ukraine and museum culture under Franco’s totalitarian rule in Spain, respectively. Another highlight of our Fall event schedule focused on The Detroit Square, a large-scale landscape and architecture project that reimagines the spaces around Detroit’s major museums and fosters collaboration. The panel featured Elena Rugh, CEO and President of the Detroit Historical Society; Oliver Ragsdale, CEO and President of the Carr Center; and U-M Professors Anya Sirota and Harley Etienne, who are part of the project’s design team. The event attracted an engaged audience of over 150 online participants.

Noteworthy news that has reached us from our alumni and that made us proud includes Joe Cialdella’s (MSP 09) recent book publication Motor City Green: A Century of Landscapes and Environmentalism in Detroit; Carolyn Clayton’s (MSP 16) new position at MassMoCA as Studios Coordinator in the museum’s Asset for Artist program; Aleksandra Kuznetsova’s (MSP 18) postdoctoral position at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC; and Stephanie Brown’s (MSP 17) acceptance of a position as museum board manager for the new African Diaspora Art Museum of Atlanta.

MSP greatly benefits from generous support to our graduate students from the Rackham Graduate School and from the Museum Studies Endowment. Earnings from the endowment assist our graduate students in a variety of ways, allowing us to supplement internship costs, address emergency needs, and support faculty-student collaborative exhibition and research projects. In addition, the MSP Director’s Strategic Fund supports our public programming, visiting scholar, special projects, and other MSP needs.

The success of our activities depends on support from the museum community, our alumni, and other generous donors. We cannot thank you enough for all of the time you have invested in hosting and mentoring our students on site visits, capstone projects, internships, and research in the field.

If you could make a financial gift this year to help us strengthen MSP’s multi-faceted program of teaching, research, practice and public engagement, I’d be very grateful. Your gift will go directly to supporting activities that provide an outstanding educational experience to our students, help to build capacity in museums, and bridge the gaps between scholarship, professionalism, and public understanding of museums.  You can help support MSP here.

Thank you for your support, and best wishes for a peaceful, happy, and healthy holiday season.



Kerstin Barndt

Director, Museum Studies Program