An education, reflected
It started with an idea that Margaret Sheble
had, one in which she would curate a photo gallery built on local support that
could highlight the Flagstaff community. Add the encouragement of faculty like
Dr. Jennifer McLerran, grant money, and – above all else – hard work, and that
idea is now a full-fledged exhibit in the Beasley Art Gallery at Northern
Arizona University, titled “Reflections of Flagstaff.”
Margaret, a senior art history major and University Honors Program student,
says that she and her fellow curators created the exhibit for a simple reason -
to prove that they could.
trying to demonstrate that it is possible for student curators to do a project
like this without spending tons and tons of money,” Sheble says. “A successful
exhibit can be made just by students; it doesn’t necessarily need to be a major
A community exhibit
Sheble explains she and her peers chose
the theme for “Reflections” because they wanted to allow everyone – not just
established artists and photographers – to participate, a concept that McLerran
approvingly calls “populist.”
to get as many people involved as possible,” Sheble says. “We thought that
photos would be the easiest way. We have photos that people took just on their
camera phone. We thought that would be the way to get the most people involved
– more so than painting, writing, or anything like that.”
serves as the coordinator of the Museum Studies program at Northern Arizona
University, and she’s been mentoring Sheble and the other students working on
“Reflections.” She considers the exhibit to be part of the future of what
galleries can do in terms of public, social interaction.
other galleries and museums that have done similar things, but I don’t know of
any exactly like this,” McLerran says.
And Sheble says
the whole concept fits in with what being in a tight-knit community like
Flagstaff is all about.
part of Flagstaff, I knew it was very community-based,” Sheble says. “And I thought this would be perfect:
for us to try some kind of project where individuals can stop and think about
where they live. We asked people to submit stories with their photographs, and
we’re hoping that helps create a dialogue.”
contains 78 photographs donated by 30 different local photographers. An
additional 78 photos from Cline Library’s Special Collections
and Archives round
out the walls of the gallery, which are white and unadorned beyond the photographs.
really simple, but that’s one of the tricks of doing something that’s really
engaging,” McLerran says.
encouraged to use markers to write on these walls and share their comments,
opinions, and feelings. By the time of the closing reception, the once-white walls
around the photographs were covered with a diverse range of handwriting from numerous
relationship with the audience, along with the content of the photographs
themselves, helped the exhibit serve as a reflection of modern social media. Sheble
and her other student curators used this foundation to promote the gallery and facilitate
involvement in a grassroots way.
“We took the
top eight photos that got the most likes and comments on our Facebook page, and
added them into the gallery,” Sheble says. “That definitely helped people
participate; it wasn’t just photographers voting on the work of other
photographers: it was friends, family, faculty, and colleagues.”
Shooting for change
Sheble says she could have never envisioned
herself initiating a project like this one in her freshman year. Now, as she
makes plans to attend a prestigious graduate school in Wales, UK, she urges other
students to take charge in creating their own success.
and put yourself out there,” Sheble says. “If you have an idea, don’t think,
‘oh, this idea is silly.’ The ‘Reflections’ gallery was just an idea I had,
until I realized that I can actually
make this happen.”
hard work and dedication made the project a reality, but she credits the
university community for their support and encouragement to pursue her
ambitions and make her idea a reality.
“I think at
other universities, you don’t always want to express yourself, because you’re
scared,” Sheble says. “Northern Arizona helped me to feel more confident. I’ve
been teaching classes. I’ve been tutoring. I’ve been talking to people. They
help you to become brave enough to get your idea out there.”