Kari O’Mara, the Museum’s Mellon Coordinator of Student Engagement, spends her days (and many evenings) meeting with students, listening to the kinds of programs they feel would be most meaningful to them. Providing opportunities for students to further discuss and debate ideas surrounding gender, race, equality, and other topical issues raised by specific artworks led to the creation of the Museum’s “Contemporary Conversations” series. Held on Thursday evenings during the semester, these discussions are not only open to students, but to faculty and community members who bring different perspectives to a broad range of themes.

The series kicked off in October 2015 with College of Human Ecology Professor Andrea Parrot and a session on sexuality, using works from the collection by Lauren Greenfield and John Coplans to prompt discussion of human sexuality and body issues, with an emphasis on societal pressures.

Photographer and Visiting Associate Professor of Art Bill Gaskins chose Margaret Bourke-White’s After the Louisville Flood to lead a discussion about art and race. “Every photograph has something that goes on beyond the frame and that’s the context,” Gaskins said in an interview with Ithaca College students. “The more you know as a citizen, the more you’ll be able to get from the photograph as a spectator of it.” This highlights an important aspect of this series: to practice the skills of critical thinking and civil discourse no matter the topic at hand.

Sonja Gandert, the Museum’s curatorial assistant and a specialist in Latin American art, invited Ithaca College Assistant Professor Enrique González-Conty for a conversation on post-revolutionary Cuban art and culture. Brittany Rubin, our print room curatorial assistant, led a conversation on the intersections of art and pornography with Cornell Associate Professor of Romance Studies Cary Howie. Other sessions looked at art in the context of feminism and of fame.

The last session offered during the Fall 2016 semester looked at art and disability and was led by Leah Sweet, the Museum’s Mellon Coordinator for Academic Programs, with special guests Allison Weiner Heinemann from the Department of Labor Relations, Law, and History and members of the Cornell Union for Disability Awareness (CUDA). One community member wrote afterward, “You and your copanelists all taught me about things I did not know, and caused me to think about the issues discussed in new ways.”

Through these informal conversations, the Johnson has become the perfect laboratory to promote discussions between people of diverse experience and background. What better way for everyone to learn about the past and more intelligently engage with the future?

Visit our calendar for the schedule of this semester’s three all-new “Contemporary Conversations,” and join us for a look into art and issues.