Published April 19, 2018
Annette Cravens, MSW ’68, a longtime art collector and UB supporter, emphasized community outreach when she donated her world-class collection of archaeological and ethnographic objects to the College of Arts and Sciences in 2010 — specifically outreach to students from kindergarten through high school.
A collaboration currently underway between the UB Anderson Gallery, home of the Cravens Collection; students in UB’s Museum Management course; and Highgate Heights Elementary likely would have made Cravens proud.
Every year, UB undergraduate and graduate students taking the Museum Management course (APY414/514), offered by the Department of Anthropology and taught by Professor Peter Biehl, conduct research on the origins and uses of objects from the Cravens Collection. Cravens had amassed the 1,100 piece-collection, which includes ceremonial African dolls and ancient anthropomorphic figurines, during four decades of travel to Asia, Africa, South America and Europe.
Hannah Quaintance, a graduate assistant with the UB Anderson Gallery, wanted to add a new twist to the course for this spring semester.
“When I became the TA for this course, I was really interested in how we could bring other communities into this project,” Quaintance says. “There was interest from two teachers at Highgate Heights Elementary, and the idea this semester was to partner with them so they’re also incorporating research about these objects into their curriculum.”
Once the partnership began, Highgate Heights students were assigned countries in Africa to research. Soon, excited children were visiting the Anderson Gallery to study objects from their assigned country that date back as far as 4,500 BC.
“It was really fulfilling to see the second- and third-graders introduced to this building after not knowing what it is at all,” says Bob Scalise, acting director of the UB Art Galleries. “All of those kids might ride their bikes around here or walk around here — it’s their backyard. We’re hoping to create an environment where they appreciate museums and see that it’s not the stigma that museums are unapproachable.”
Once students had the opportunity to take in the wonders of the Cravens Collection, second-graders were assigned to recreate country flags, while a class of third-graders made artwork representing their Cravens Collections objects.
After visiting the gallery several times, a pair of second-graders and a pair of third-graders were grouped with a UB student to talk about the object, giving the UB students a chance to talk about their research with a much younger audience.
“It’s an excellent opportunity for the UB students,” says Quaintance. “Part of this was also making the college course meaningful and allowing students to practice sharing their research with different age groups and audiences.”
To cap off the collaborative experience, the elementary students’ work will be on display in the arts workshop space down the hall from the Cravens Collection. “Classroom Conversations: Collaborative Learning from the Cravens Collection” will open May 6 and run through July 29. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday.
“Classroom Conversations” will pair the colorful artwork and research by the Highgate Heights students with the research of their UB student partners and the objects from the Cravens Collection. The exhibition is designed to welcome younger audiences — displays will be at child’s eye level, unlike other exhibitions in the Anderson Gallery — and serve as the new hub for projects with children in the community.
Scalise says this kind of collaboration is what Annette Cravens, who died last year at age 93, hoped for when she gave her collection to UB. She was deeply committed to fostering a challenging educational environment, he adds.
“This would’ve meant everything to her,” Scalise says. “She never stopped, even up to her final days. She always said, ‘I’m running out of time and it can’t stop with me. You need to keep challenging people in different ways.’
“It’s easy to get static with the usual rotation of exhibitions,” he notes. “Annette always challenged us as a museum, and challenged people to see different things in different ways. This is exactly what she wanted us to be doing.”