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Museomorphosis

March 1, 2005

Museomorphosis

New Museum Studies program goes global

By Katherine Yungmee Kim
March 2005

The gala opening of  “Insatiable Desires,” the capstone Museum Studies exhibition at the Fisher Gallery on March 1, could have been a sentimental affair. After all, it was the final student-curated show after 25 years of the Museum Studies Program at the USC College.

Instead, director Selma Holo hosted a festive evening that celebrated the successes of the old program, while heralding in a new era with the launch of the International Museum Institute.

“Museum Studies as we knew it is over at USC,” Holo declared. “But studying museums at USC has only just begun.”

IMI is already collaborating with museum directors in Mexico, and has its sights set on partnerships across the Pacific Rim, to establish relationships with Los Angeles museum leaders and USC scholars to explore the most pressing museum matters of the day.

While the old program focused on graduate training in the curatorial, educational and administration of art museums, the new institute will target mid-career museum directors and will address such issues as the essential relationships of museums and society, legal and ethical matters, exhibition strategies, the challenges and opportunities of technology, and the relationships among business, the global economy and local culture.

Holo, who is also a professor of art history and director of the Fisher Gallery, has recently published a book, Oaxaca at the Crossroads, which examined the cultural life of museums, cultural centers, archaeological sites and the porous boundaries between art and artisanry that thrived in the southern Mexican state despite the nation’s political forces. Her first book, Beyond the Prado, looked at Spain’s transition from a dictatorship to a democracy and its effect on the country’s museums.

In a letter read by Provost Lloyd Armstrong, USC President Steven Sample praised Holo for her stewardship and lauded the outgoing Museum Studies program for being “one of our nation’s leading educators of art historians and museum curators in the industry.”

Phil Nowlen, director of the Getty’s Museum Leadership Institute, acknowledged that alumni of the Museum Studies Program were not only “deeply trained, but broadly educated.” He added that he had to believe that Holo had imparted a “wonderfully broad and flexible way about thinking and solving problems” that made her “extraordinarily important to the field of museum studies.”

USC College Dean Joseph Aoun attributed to Holo the “reinvention” of the field of museum studies. “This is a unique opportunity for us to share our Los Angeles riches
with cultural leaders in Latin America and ultimately in Asia, while we simultaneously create equally valuable opportunities for those of us at USC and in Southern California to learn from our international colleagues,” said Aoun.

Aoun added that the Institute exemplifies the university’s strategic plan, which calls for interdisciplinary scholarship that integrates the global world.

“As we pioneer this international approach to advanced leadership training, we will bring together theoreticians and practitioners to explore the potential of the museums of the next century," Aoun explained. "Based on dialogue and shared expertise, this approach will provide exciting opportunities for everyone involved.”

IMI has formed collaborations locally with the Getty’s Museum Leadership Institute, the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, the Huntington Botanical Gardens, the Skirball Cultural Center, the L.A. County Museum of Art, the Japanese American National Museum, the No Strings Foundation, and the Museum of the American West at the Autry National Center.