12 x 12 collage on birch panel
From "Mixed-Media in the Style of Romare Bearden" class with teacher Sandra Gobar
Smithsonian Associates Studio Arts programs would be nearly impossible to run without the help of volunteers. After receiving specialized training through the Associates volunteer office, studio arts event representatives are poised and ready to assist both teachers and students in a variety of important ways. In return for their commitment which often spans eight weeks, volunteers have the option of actively participating in the class where they have been assigned. In this special series of interviews, we offer our readers an insider’s perspective on our studio classes and share just a little bit about these special people who volunteer with Smithsonian Associates on a regular basis. We hope you enjoy meeting them.
Interview with Smithsonian Associates Studio Arts Event Representative, Michelle Mulligan
Why did you decided to become a Smithsonian Associates Studio Arts volunteer?
MM: I decided to become a Studio Arts Monitor when I was approached by the Volunteer Coordinator at the time. I was a volunteer at the front desk. I think there was a shortage of studio arts monitors. I had taken some classes as a Smithsonian Member and jumped at the chance to be a monitor! I continued both volunteer "jobs" for a while.
What is most rewarding for you about volunteering?
MM: I really believe in the Smithsonian Associates mission: to "increase and diffuse knowledge". It's very satisfying to feel as though I can contribute my time to that cause. Plus, I have met some really great teachers and students.
What is your favorite Smithsonian Museum? Why?
MM: My favorite Smithsonian museum would be The Natural History. I have been able to spend quite a bit of time there appreciating what it has to offer while volunteering for the "Night at the Museum" programs, which is a whole lot of fun!
Do you have an arts background?
MM: I have always loved and made art. I had an early appreciation of it growing up. After retiring 13 years ago, I am able to spend time painting and drawing. I am also a member at the McGuffey Art Center in Charlottesville, VA., where I have shown my work.
What classes have you participated in?
MM: I have participated in Exploring Abstraction, Beginning Drawing, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Advanced Drawing on the Right side of the Brain, Intro and Continuing Calligraphy, Painting is for Everyone, several of the Beading workshops, Pastel Portraits, The Still Life in Pastels, Introduction to Pastel, Talking About Art at the National Gallery, Beginning Oil Painting, Connect with the Arts/ Copying the Masters, Drawing the Passion Vine Butterfly, and Mixed-Media in the Style of Romare Bearden.
Do you have a favorite class?
MM: I think my favorite class is Exploring Abstraction. There are several close seconds though!
Favorite assignment/project from our classes?
MM: One painting I did that was inspired by the Exploring Abstraction class, was selected for "Artist at Work", The Smithsonian Community Art Show in 2011 which was exhibited in the Ripley Center. That was very exciting for me! Another collage project I really liked (and was so fun) I made in the Mixed-Media in the Style of Romare Bearden class.
Any tips for other volunteers, teachers or students that they wouldn’t know from the course description?
MM: For the volunteers and students: with the Studio Arts Classes, because they usually meet more than once you really get to know the students. The class size is smaller and more intimate. You meet some really nice people that have a lot to contribute to the class because of different backgrounds and life experiences. Also, taking a studio arts class can help you learn not to be afraid of trying something new.
You get to talk to the students, have you noticed any common obstacles they have had to overcome to take the class (ex: unsure of their art skill, etc)?
MM: The common obstacle for sure is the fear of failure and trying something new. Sometimes students have no past art experience at all and their jobs are or were so different. An art class may be something they have always wanted to do. The teachers are professionals and the atmosphere is relaxed to help students understand art really is for everyone.
If you could design a class, what would it be?
MM: Not sure I have an answer for this one. The classes offered give a person a great cross reference of art knowledge. I did miss the Talking About Art at the National Gallery but a new one has been offered again and I can't wait to participate in this one with Shanin Shikhaliyev.
I'd like to try a sculpture class!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
MM: I don't think it's important to have an art background to be a studio arts volunteer, just a willingness to be of service and participate in the class with the students and the instructors when it's appropriate.
I love being a Smithsonian Associates Studio Arts event representative!