MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Middlebury College will open a new exhibit of historical images and text at the Kirk Center on Saturday, October 20, as part of Homecoming. The exhibit, titled “The Continuity of Change: Living, Learning, and Standing Together,” offers a look at student life and activism throughout Middlebury’s history. The public is invited to an opening reception at 5 p.m. with remarks at 5:30.
The new exhibit is the result of nearly two months of research by six student interns in the College’s summer MuseumWorks program, who were asked by Alliance for an Inclusive Middlebury and the president’s office to reimagine the Kirk Center as a space highlighting the past, present, and future of Middlebury.
“We knew it would be a big task, but we said yes,” said Jason Vrooman ’03, director of MuseumWorks and curator of education and academic programs for the College’s art museum. Vrooman says the Kirk exhibit gave MuseumWorks students a challenging opportunity to fulfill their exhibit practicum, an important component to the summer program.
Each Monday throughout the summer, the MuseumWorks interns met with college archivist and practicum co-director Danielle Rougeau at the Special Collections room in the lower level of Davis Family Library, poring over mountains of historic materials and making difficult decisions about what to include in the new exhibit.
“We looked at maps, we looked at scrapbooks, we looked at student journals, publications, minutes of faculty meetings, official administrative reports and distilled all of that into an exhibition in the span of two months,” said Vrooman.
Created to give the feel of a collage, the new exhibit panels blend historic imagery from the archives with interpretive text.
“As we are becoming more diverse as an institution, we have to think about how we welcome people into our spaces in a way that feels inclusive,” said Baishakhi Taylor, vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “This exhibit is really trying to represent the 218 years of Middlebury’s changing, dynamic history. We are a place that values tradition and innovation at the same time.”
Vrooman says that, while the exhibit aims to be truthful about obstacles to students’ full participation in the life of the college – past and present – it also conveys optimism in how much has changed for the better over Middlebury’s 218-year history.
“The student curators looked for moments when perhaps we [Middlebury] could have learned and improved and had room to grow and also moments of great inspiration when Middlebury really got it right as a community,” said Vrooman. “The idea is that all of those moments help us understand where we are now, and will be both lessons and inspirations for the future.”
Will Kasso Condry, an artist who is best known on campus for his striking murals in the Anderson Freeman Center and McCullough Student Center, contributed three original paintings to the new display. He said that, as usual, collaboration was key to his approach. Condry met with the interns in a series of conversations about art’s ability to promote community.
“One thing that stuck out for me was the student activism over the years—how students have been a driving force of change,” said Condry.
As students delved into the mountains of historic materials, they were surprised to discover that student activism on campus dates back to some of the earliest days of the College and, in fact, has provided the impetus for institutional change many times over.
“Activism may look very different now, but it’s been a constant thread in Middlebury’s history,” said Jessie Kuzmicki ’19, one of the student interns who helped curate the exhibit. She said the continuity of that theme comes to life through the timeline of the panels.
Sam Martin ’19, another MuseumWorks intern who helped design the panels said that the look of the new exhibit is part of its message. “I think the aesthetic of the exhibit is really special. It’s really tape and glue and scissors and spray paint — meant to look like students put it up to bring color and light and a real sense of energy to our story.”
The full list of student curators includes Yihao (Lyra) Ding ‘19, Jessie Kuzmicki ‘19, Sam Tompkins Martin ‘19, Samantha Horton ‘20, Laurel Margerum ‘19, and Elizabeth Warfel ‘19.