FIU link with Smithsonian leads to museum studies program
By Sherri C. Ranta
A museum studies program under development at Florida International University is incorporating resources of the prestigious Smithsonian Institution.
FIU officials said they are moving quickly to capitalize on the school's status as a Smithsonian affiliate. Plans are to offer a museum studies certificate program for working professionals as early as January, said Carol Damian, chair of FIU's Academics Arts Council.
"We see this as being a two-track program," Dr. Damian said. "We'll provide service to the community of museum professionals who need to know about the process of museum work.
"In the second step," she said, "we'll use the certificate as a stepping stone into a master's degree in museum studies, which would also be two-tracked: a master's of arts in museum study or a masters in art history."
The proposed program, the only one of its kind in South Florida, is expected to be one of many initiatives between FIU and the Smithsonian Institution made possible by an affiliation agreement signed by top school and Smithsonian officials in January.
Dr. Damian said FIU faculty and staff are looking to incorporate the best offerings of other museum studies programs at universities such as George Washington University in Washington, DC, and New York University.
"We need." Dr. Damian said, "to find a niche and make the program unique."
She cited cutting-edge courses such as the use of technology in museums.
"A certificate program would serve the community very broadly," Dr. Damian said. "Most museum workers are hired by small institutions with limited budgets. They hire people who live locally. Usually those people care about the subject - that's what drives them."
But, she said, they are not necessarily knowledgeable about museum practices.
"So a program for working professionals," Dr. Damian said, "just increases the ability of small museums to do their jobs."
As a Smithsonian affiliate, FIU has access to artifacts from a network of 16 museums for exhibitions and study areas that range from tropical biology and environmental studies to natural history.
The agreement also provides for an exchange of curators, scholars, staff, student interns and fellows.
FIU has two museums - The Art Museum at FIU and the Wolfsonian-FIU.
FIU is one of more than 80 groups with primarily museums that are affiliated with the Smithsonian and only the second institution of higher learning sporting such an alliance. The other is Turabo University in Puerto Rico.
Smithsonian officials say they are excited about the affiliation with FIU.
"We're particularly interested in FIU because of the access to the Latin community and being able to provide educational opportunities to Hispanics in the museum field," said Nancy Fuller, research program manager for the Smithsonian's Center for Education and Museum Studies.
A museum studies program at FIU, she said, will not only serve South Florida but also Central and South America.
FIU officials said they are looking to make the core components of a museum studies program available online although the program at the moment is on hold, Ms. Fuller said.
"We do know they want to proceed," Ms. Fuller said. "We're more than happy to collaborate with them to develop the degree program."
In addition to the museum studies program, FIU and the Smithsonian are collaborating on other programs.
Rosalin Walker, director of the Smithsonian Museum of African Art, is lecturing at the Art Museum at FIU Oct. 10-12 in conjunction with the show, "Face of the Gods: Arts & Altars of Africa and the African Americas."