MUS 113 Final Project, Fall 2021: Framing Black Music History

Panel 1 of Struggle: From the History of the American People (Jacob Lawrence)

How can we tell the story of Black music in America, using images rather than sounds?

To whom will we tell this story? Who is our audience?

What is our objective in telling the story? What do we want our audience to understand? How do we want to create change in the minds and hearts of our audience?

And how will we accomplish these objectives?

Your final project for Fall 2021 asks you to consider these questions. Your answers will take the form of a collaborative gallery show in the Gallery @ SUNY Broome, located in the Cecil C. Tyrrell Library, which will be displayed from November 30 to December 10 of the fall semester.

Drum, early 20th century Akan Ashanti people, Wood, polychrome; Drum – L.: 39 cm (15-7/16 in.); Head Diam.: 25.8 cm (10-3/16 in.);Total – L.: 53 cm (20-7/8 in.) ;W.: 55 cm (21-11/16 in.); D.: 35 cm 13-13/16 in.) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Raymond E. Britt Sr., 1977 (1977.454.17)

Final Project: Object Lessons

For your final project, you will be collaborating with your classmates to curate and mount a gallery exhibit of objects and visual images related to the history of Black American music.

The exhibit will be open to the college community and the public, and will be hung in the Gallery @ SUNY Broome, located in the Cecil C. Tyrrell Library. You will be working with the assistance of librarians Noah Roth, Dana Curtin, Robin Petrus, and Paul Bond, and gallery curator/technical assistant Robin Valashinas, to research and mount your exhibit. Ms. Curtin will be introducing you to research methods in a special class meeting in the library on September 30, and will be available to help throughout the semester.

You will also make contact with some local individuals and institutions who are willing to lend images or objects to your exhibit from their collections.

Here are some to contact:

  • Me
  • You and/or your social network! Are you or a friend producers, performers, or videographers? Do you or a friend have work that fits your story line and can be shared in this format?

Note: This class has a Discord server to which I will invite all of you by email address. You are required to join the server. It will help facilitate your collaboration.

Your initial work on the project will be as a class. On September 21 and 23, you will be spending the last 10 minutes of class discussing and finalizing your ideas for the final project. On September 28, you will be presenting me with your ideas. Use the following questions to help work out your theme for the exhibit:

  • What is our “story” for the exhibit?
  • How will we synthesize information to tell our story?
  • How can we show this information in the form of images/objects?
  • What is our story line for the museum audience?
  • How will we design the show to reflect this story line?

After September 28, you will be divided into teams of 4-5 people each. You will need to meet regularly as a team, so you MUST exchange contact information and set up meeting schedules as a team ON YOUR OWN.

Each team will be responsible for separate aspects of this project, but each team will interact and advise/take advisement from the other teams, as follows:

Team 1

If you are in Team 1, you are responsible for researching, locating, and reaching out to local institutions and individuals who have items that pertain to your theme, and are willing to lend these objects to the show.

Questions for Team 1:

  • What objects or images will we use to tell our story?
  • Where will we find these objects/images?
  • What formats or media will these objects/images use?
  • How will we create variety within the unity of our theme?
  • Will any of our objects be multimedia or interactive?
  • Will any of our objects take the form of live performances?
  • Will we use a set script to contact the owners of the objects we would like to borrow for our exhibit?

Team 2

If you are in Team 2, you are responsible for designing the exhibit in a way that makes it appealing and comprehensive to visitors, and that embodies your theme. How will the items received by Team 1 be displayed? Which pieces will be highlighted? Why?

Questions for Team 2:

  • Is our design logically organized?
  • How will our story line start? How will it end?
  • Will we use a chronological timeline to tell our story? Or some other format?
  • How will our design convey our story to visitors?
  • How can we highlight certain pieces to convey our main themes?
  • Will music and streaming audio be part of our design?

Team 3

If you are in Team 3, you are responsible for writing the display cards that will be mounted on the wall next to each item. You will need to work closely with Team 1 and Team 2 to research the objects and their backstories, to synthesize the information you receive, and to write clear and straightforward prose that will explain the significance of the objects and images to visitors.

Questions for Team 3:

  • Does the content and order of our wall labels help visitors understand our story?
  • Is our writing relevant and useful to the visitor?
  • Is our writing clear, logically organized, and straightforward?
  • Do our wall labels follow our story line?
  • Is all our text grammatically correct?

Team 4

If you are in Team 4, you are responsible for acting as docents — teaching guides who lead visitors through the exhibit, explaining its important features and informing them about the significance of its objects, images, history, etc. Members of this group will alternate docent responsibilities at least once each during the ten days of the exhibit.

Questions for Team 4:

  • Who will our audiences be?
  • Have we learned the full exhibition?
  • Have we practiced what we will tell visitors about the exhibit?
  • Are we speaking slowly and clearly enough so that visitors will grasp the main points of our story?
  • How can we engage visitors with our story through our work as docents?
  • How can our exhibit be used as a teaching tool?

Everyone will work together with library staff to hang the exhibit on November 29, and to take it down on December 11.

Oh, and there will be an opening night PARTY to which you can invite your friends. There will be refreshments and performances by faculty and students. Let me know if you would like to perform!

Albert Wells, Still Life, 1953, oil on canvas, Black Art In America collection
Timeline For Final Project
  • September 21 and 23:
    You will be meeting in the last 15 minutes of class to work out the exhibit theme. I will separate you into two groups to make discussion manageable. You will definitely need to schedule other meetings outside of class.
    One student from each group should be designated to write a synopsis of your ideas.
    Another student from each group should be designated to present it in class orally.
  • September 28:
    In the first 15 minutes of class, the designated students from each group will be presenting the first draft of your theme synopsis. I will be asking questions and helping you to make your theme more concise.
  • October 5:
    You will be meeting as a whole class in the last 15 minutes of class to decide on your final theme for the gallery exhibit. You will designate a writer to write it up and send to me.
  • October 7:
    Final draft of theme is due in my inbox by 11:59 PM.
    Final Project Team Contracts due in class (See Appendix B).
  • October 14:
    I will give you your Team assignment.

Over the next three weeks, Teams should work as follows:

  • Team 1:
    Research and identify images/objects that fit your exhibit theme.
    Make contact with the owners of these objects. Will it help you to prepare a script to use to talk to them?
    Working with Paul Bond, establish permissions and fair usage for images.
    What about audio and video installations?
  • Team 2:
    Be in close contact with Team 1.
    Study the images and objects that they have identified.
    Begin planning a design that will showcase the objects in a way that will visually and tactilely support the theme for visitors.
    Plan for audio and video installations to be part of the design of the show. You must contact the Events Planning department and put in a request for these services to be used.
  • Team 3:
    Be in close contact with Teams 1 and 2.
    Begin drafting a written narrative that will support the theme of the show.
    Begin ordering your narrative so that it matches the show’s design.
  • Team 4:
    Be in close contact with Teams 1, 2, and 3.
    Begin preparing a draft of what you will say to visitors to teach them the exhibit and its story. Note: This is NOT the same thing as just reading off the wall texts that Team 3 is working on!
    How will you make the exhibit’s story come to life for visitors? How will you allow it to change them?
  • October 28: In the first 15 minutes of class, Teams will present their initial work to me, as follows:

    Team 1: Present a list of the objects and images you have identified that symbolize the theme of the exhibit.
    Do you have permissions to use these objects in the exhibit?

    Team 2: Present your initial design plan for the way these objects and images will be shown in the exhibit.

    Team 3: Present your initial draft for the narrative of the exhibit.

    Team 4: Present your first draft of the text you will use to teach the exhibit to visitors

Over the next two weeks, your work should take the following directions:

  • Team 1:
    Arrange to pick up objects/images (I can help with this, so make sure to coordinate with me) and transfer them to library.
  • Team 2:
    Working with Team 1, walk through the space and map out where each object will be displayed. Working with the audio and video capabilities of the library, plan playlists for the exhibit.
  • Team 3:
    Write the wall cards for each object.
  • Team 4:
    Learn the design of the exhibit and construct a narrative for teaching it to visitors.

  • November 11: In the first 15 minutes of class, present me with your work in final form, as follows:

    Team 1: Present a final list of the objects and images you have permission to use.

    Team 2: Present your final design for the exhibit.

    Team 3: Present the final drafts of your wall cards.

    Team 4: Present the final draft of your docent teaching talks.

Over the next two weeks, your work should take the following directions:

  • Team 1:
    Pick up and gather together all objects and images (again, coordinate with me).
    Finalize the collection.
    Confirm audio-visual requests with Events Planning.
    Confirm any performances/live readings that you’ve chosen to be part of the show.
  • Team 2:
    Bring objects and images into the gallery space.
    Arrange them according to your design and make tweaks and adjustments as needed.
    Finalize audio/video design plan.
    Work with Robin Valashinas to install the show.
  • Team 3:
    Edit and print the final version of the wall cards (if you provide the content, the library secretary will assist you with this task).
  • Team 4:
    Finalize your teaching narrative and rehearse it.

  • November 29, 7 PM: Mount exhibit
  • November 30: Opening Night
  • Between November 30 and December 10:
    Team 4 members sign up to lead at least one docent tour and talk
  • December 11: Take down show
  • December 14: Final Project Group Process Evaluation form and Final Project Self Evaluation form due in class (see Appendix B)
I Strongly Advise You to Write Down These Dates in Your Planner. Do Not Let This Be Your M.O.:

Nor this.

Grading Rubric for Final Project

The grading rubric will be both whole-group and team-specific, as follows. 50% of your grade will be for your general work as a whole group in devising your exhibit theme, and the other 50% will be for the work you do in your teams.

Click here for a link to the rubric.

Appendix A

Do a virtual walk-through of a recent exhibit of African American portraiture at the Binghamton University Art Museum.

Watch this video about a recent art exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts called “Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse.” Pay attention to the ways that the curator, Valerie Cassol Oliver, describes the connections between music and objects.

Nashville’s new Museum of African American Music just opened at the beginning of 2021:

Appendix B

Downloadable forms:

Final Project Team Contract (Due October 7)

Final Project Group Process Evaluation (Due December 14)

Final Project Self Evaluation (Due December 14)