Calvin Reedy and His Experience With the Bates College Museum of Art

My name is Calvin, I’m a senior, and I spent the Winter semester here at the Bates Museum of Art interning as a curatorial assistant to Dan Mills. Before I go into detail about what I’ve done, I’ll backtrack a bit to explain how I got here. Back in the Fall, my thesis advisor suggested that I consider museum work after leaving Bates, so I did some research, and thought that curatorial work would be something enjoyable. I had always loved museums, but up until that point, I had never seriously considered working for one. So when I decided that that would be the field I would try my hardest to get into after graduation, I had a brief moment of panic due to my complete lack of experience in working with museums. I then remembered that the Bates Museum of Art had an internship program, and thought that perhaps this could be the key to finding a position after graduation.

I started out my internship doing a lot of work that coincided with Phantom Punch: Contemporary Art from Saudi Arabia, the exhibition that was going on at the time. Many of the artists shown in the exhibition visited Bates to attend walk-throughs of the show and speak about their work. Another artist, Nugamshi, actually came out to do a short residency program. Nugamshi is a performance artist who creates large pieces of stylized Arabic calligraphy, known as “calligrafitti.” For the residency, Dan had found a storefront in the heart of the Somali business district, and we took several trips back and forth to Home Depot to buy paint for Nugamshi and enough drop clothes to cover the carpet (which was more difficult than it should have been). Much of my work at this time in addition to organizing the physical space was promoting the event to the Bates community and broader Lewiston community. Thankfully, Facebook makes that pretty easy. I also worked with Dan to help design the flyer for the pop-up show and performance. I’ve had some experience planning events, and the notion that anything that can go wrong will go wrong has proven itself to be true so many times. So of course we realized we had put the wrong address on the flyers after I had put one up in every business on Lisbon Street that had a bulletin board. Unfortunate, but nothing some sticky labels can’t fix!

The performance and pop-up show event was, to my surprise, very well attended by both Bates students and community members (especially for a Monday night). We had about fifty to sixty guests eager to see Nugamshi at work, take pictures and videos, and to ask him questions about what he had done. Between the mini performances, guests sipped on the various juices that Dan and I had picked up from the several Somali convenience stores on the block. We were happy to see that some of the shop owners and their friends had accepted our invitation, and attended the pop-up show. Nugamshi started by scraping off the dried black paint on the storefront windows to create large graphic icons out of Arabic script, one symbolizing justice, and the other, morality. He then literally expanded these on large canvases that covered the walls. Since he works on such a large scale, he’s pieces are quite performative, and the movements with the large brushes he uses almost look like choreographed dances.  I think the audience got the most excited when he made his final piece, which consisted of throwing two paint-filled glass ornaments onto a canvas. Something that I found interesting about Nugamshi was that he would give very sparse and matter-of-fact answers to audience members that asked him questions.

Overall, I was very pleased with the entire experience of planning and executing the pop-up show. It was very timely, given the nation’s political climate, especially the attempted Muslim ban that had just been signed by the new administration. I also appreciated the fact that the museum had created this space amongst the Somali business district, reaching people that might have been able to understand the art on a deeper level than one who is not from the Muslim world and does not read Arabic. Throughout this entire process, I really enjoyed getting to know Nugamshi. Not very many people get to work closely with an internationally noted contemporary artist, and I think that this is one of the most exciting aspects of museum work. What’s even more exciting is that my experiences here helped me secure a curatorial summer internship with the Whitney Museum of American Art, which starts a week after graduation. While commuting into the city five days a week will be much more difficult than walking from the Village to Olin, I’m excited to see what’s in store for my first career move after Bates!