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Collarts and Drexel University Celebrate Meaningful Design

Mar 18, 2022

As part of their ‘Design Movements’ unit, Collarts Interior Design students collaborated with Drexel University students to create a hybrid exhibition that aimed to showcase the beauty and meaning in the mundane.

Enter The Museum of Where We Are, a collection that invites its viewers to see everyday objects through a new lens.

The project was conceptualised by Drexel’s Assistant Professor of Design History Professor Joseph Larnerd, who sought to find a way for his students to continue hands-on learning, following the universal pivot to remote approaches after the pandemic hit in early 2020.

"Objects shape how we think, feel, and act," he shares. "As such, they inform how we see ourselves, each other, and the communities to which we belong. Meaningful encounters with design, then, can occur anywhere—a museum, a department store, a dorm room, and so on."

Larnerd adds, "As historians and designers, it is our challenge and privilege to become so attuned to the material world that appears before us and, through our respective crafts, for those for whom we write or design. This collaboration aimed for nothing less than emboldening and empowering students to see their material lives anew."

the museum of where we are-1Image provided by Drexel

As a concept that inspires deep insight by nature, it's no surprise that The Museum of Where We Are opened up an incredible opportunity for collaboration; Professor Larnerd reached out to Collarts Interior Design Progam Coordinator Jenni Woods for the chance to have Collarts students engage in a joint project.

After exchanging course information, they both saw the potential for shared learning opportunities, which ultimately sparked the decision to collaborate.

And so the Global Classroom was born.

“THE AIM WAS TO CONNECT AND LEARN WITH STUDENTS FROM PHILADELPHIA AND AUSTRALIA."


It was a culmination of work between Collarts’ Interior Design unit Design Movements and Drexel’s History of Modern Design course.

Explaining what the project entailed, Jenni shares, “Both Drexel and Collarts students engaged in live Zoom sessions together, learning from their lecturers and guest presenters as well as sharing feedback on the project with each other.”

“Through a process of iterative editing and feedback, students produced an Interpretive Label for an everyday object. Collarts students also produced an image of their object in an interior space that explored the Sense of Place connected to the object.”

Meanwhile, Drexel students wrote the labels in the virtual museum, as well as most of the labels now on display at Rincliffe.

I was exposed to a whole new way of thinking,” says Collarts student Ashleigh Harris. “We were encouraged to really deep dive into the meanings of each individual aspect of the objects to discover if even the smallest detail has a meaningful story.”

Interview Quotes

Image 1: The Museum of Where We Are exhibition at Drexel University.
Image 2: Collarts' recreation of The Museum of Where We Are at the Cromwell St campus.

Alongside its power to encourage creators to see objects through a fresh lens, the project also challenged students to master the art of collaborating and sharing their learnings with peers—an essential skill for all designers.

Jenni says: "The ability to collaborate and share learning and growth with a diversity of people is essential to developing the core skills of Interior Designers such as flexibility, empathy and curiosity."

"Learning from another Lecturer with a wide range of experience in Material Culture was a real bonus for the students and having more than one opinion on their work was highly valuable," she adds.

"THE STUDENTS EXCEEDED MY HIGH EXPECTATIONS... THE THOUGHTFULNESS OF THEIR WORK AND ITS ABILITY TO GROUND LARGER THEMES IN EVERYDAY OBJECTS."


On the process, Professor Larnerd looks back on his students' work and shares his thoughts with pride: “Tasked with conceptualising, researching, and writing a label for an object from their place of residence, the students exceeded my high expectations, such was the thoughtfulness of their work and its ability to ground larger themes discussed in class—power, race, gender, class, and more—in everyday objects."

Collarts student Lisa Le reflects on the valuable insights she gleaned from the project: “It's something we know and say often, that communication is important, but sometimes it is easily overlooked or can be a struggle. With this project, we were constantly workshopping our ideas and also learning to be vocal about our peer's work.”

She continues, “It's quite daunting to share your work with others let alone receive feedback. [This process] helped us tremendously and pushed us further than we thought we could go. Brainstorming with one another can lead to an abundance of new ideas and more importantly, help problem solve - you don't have to figure it out on your own.”

THEMUSEUMOFWHEREWEARE [17.12.21] EDITED - 24

Director of Drexel Collection Lynn C. Waddell, who co-curated the exhibition with Professor Larnerd in the Rincliffe Gallery, adds that the exhibit brings something fresh and exciting to the gallery, as it invites guests, staff and students to see the Drexel collections in a new light.

"The Museum of Where We Are re-engaged students, visitors, staff, and faculty with the Drexel Collection after returning from the pandemic," she says. "There’s a great juxtaposition between the Collection’s display cases of 19th-century materials and the Museum of Where We Are that makes people look closer at both."

HubSpot Video

 

Collarts student Tanya Gourgaud agrees that the collaborative project has encouraged her to stay mindful and appreciative of the beauty that surrounds her. "Unpeeling the layers and refining the beauty and meaning of everyday objects is empowering, teaching me to stay curious and understand the importance of invention."

Waddell adds: "The mission of the Drexel Collection is to be a resource for Drexel University and partner with different colleges and departments across campus. The Museum of Where We Are collaboration demonstrated how fulfilling these partnerships can be and how much they can enrich the student experience."

"With the added connection with Collarts, we connected our students with colleagues across the world to continue the discussion of material culture and is another amazing example of how far collaborations like this can reach and be shared."

THEMUSEUMOFWHEREWEARE [17.12.21] EDITED - 12

As a designer, there's a whole world of knowledge to unearth from working on such concepts. As Larnerd puts it, "Designers and historians make worlds. To do so ethically, thoughtfully, and with empathy can help ensure that subsequent generations of creators will have the ability to do the same."

Currently, there are 10 Collarts student images and labels displayed at the Drexel Museum of Where We Are exhibition in Philadelphia, alongside the university's digital catalogue.

Meanwhile, Collarts' Cromwell Street campus houses a small scale exhibition of the MoWWA—on display until the end of April.

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