Today we take a look at the Museum Studies program at Virginia Commonwealth University. Marisa Day worked at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C before moving to Richmond where she graduated with her M.A. in Museum Studies and Art History from VCU in 2011. She is now the Youth and Family Studio Programs Educator and Assistant at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and loves to talk to anyone and everyone about why Richmond is her new favorite city.
School: Virginia Commonwealth University
Degree: Museum Studies tract M.A. within the department of Art History
Location: Richmond, Virginia (a fantastic city, recently named #1 River City in America by Outside Magazine).
Emphasis: program mixes practical experiences with museum theory and art history. Program equips students for positions in curatorship, collections management, educational program development, and exhibit development.
The Museum Studies tract M.A. at Virginia Commonwealth University prepares students for the competitive museum field through practical museum experience, along with courses that emphasize museum theory and museum case studies. The course curriculum includes the following:
- 4 graduate level art history courses of your choosing or focus.
- 4 museum studies classes (collections, museums and community, education and exhibition)
- Art Historiography and Methodology (to be taken the first semester)
In addition to the above courses, students must receive a passing grade on a foreign language translation exam, a slide exam, and an essay exam that focuses on the student’s primary area of interest. Students are also required to complete a 3-credit museum internship and a thesis or museum project (6 credits). Some students will choose to base their project off work or ideas they developed through the required internship, while others, like myself, might write a traditional art historical thesis. While my focus in graduate school was museum education, I wrote an art historical thesis on an artist who I researched in the archives of a Richmond museum.
Whether you write a thesis or present a museum project, a written proposal must first be discussed and approved by a committee made up of your thesis director (museum studies professor, or art history professor willing to guide you through the process), and two readers. Once your proposal is approved you may apply for candidacy and begin the fun of writing. Your final thesis/museum project will be defended in front of the same committee. The two committee defense meetings are nerve wracking, but extremely beneficial. I learned to propose and defend my ideas and research, and how to process and utilize constructive criticism while face to face with individuals whom I respected and also found intimidating. It is both a humbling and empowering experience.
The program can typically be completed in in 2 – 2.5 years. I was employed (at VCU, approximately 32 – 40 hours per week) during graduate school. I completed coursework and my internship in 2 years and spent a year proposing and writing my thesis. Though it took me three years to complete my masters, I found that my thesis director and readers were very supportive of my need to work while in school. I was also lucky to find work on campus with a supervisor supportive of my class schedule, and within close proximity to my department.
Classes are small and made up of students who have a wide variety of interests in the museum world – this results in lively classroom discussions. Because of the intimacy of the program, students collaborate well. This supportive nature has lead to the creation of a very well run and organized Art History Graduate Student Association. The organization publishes quarterly newsletters, hosts professional development workshops and lectures, and has an active facebook page where students post job, internship and fellowship opportunities.
A mere mile and a half up the street from VCU is the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA). Occasionally, museum studies courses are taught at the museum, allowing students to meet and confer with museum staff. The VMFA is a wonderful resource for students in the program and boasts an incredible collection, library, and great public programs—not to mention a fantastic membership rate for students with their school ID.
In my opinion, the best thing about going to school at VCU is living in Richmond. It is less expensive (rent-wise) than other large cities, but you still have access to a number of stellar museums, galleries, and nonprofits where you can gain practical internship or volunteer experience. A few of these organizations include (but are not limited to) the VMFA, Virginia Historical Society, Valentine Richmond History Center, Maymont, and the Virginia Holocaust Museum. In addition, Richmond’s history, as the capital of the confederacy during the Civil War, allows students in the museum studies program engage in research and conversations about how history museums and other institutions should address this past. This is not to say that the city is stuck in the 19th century. Rather, Richmond is now a diverse, progressive, cultural hub filled with incredibly creative idea makers, which is reflected in VCUarts’ ranking as the #1 Public Arts institution in the country. It is is truly an exciting place to go to school.
I believe that VCU’s Museum Studies M.A. is a great program for students interested in understanding museum theory, engaging in lively debates, and in gaining practical experience. Dr. Margaret Lindauer (the head of the museum studies program), allows students to form organic ideas in order to progress down their own path. I recommend that students applying for this program be committed to understanding art historical concepts, and comfortable engaging in insightful conversations with others who are also passionate about pursuing a career in the museum world. I’m happy to answer any questions anyone may have about VCU or Richmond—just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.