Andrea Sofia Rodriguez Matos is a junior majoring in Art History with a minor in Photography at Florida International University. Passionate for the art and culture of the Caribbean, Latin America, and the African Diaspora, she aspires to be a curator. As part of Art Society Conflict, Andrea desires to expand her knowledge in art and the history of Florida’s most vibrant city.
Describe where is the art institution located. Explore the relationship to the surrounding community.
Provide a thorough, researched, and cited history of the art institution.
Reproduce and explain the mission of the institution.
How accessible is the institution? Are there discounts for students? residents? What are the benefits of membership?
Highlight and describe the major works of the permanent collection of the institution. Highlight three artworks.
List and describe temporary exhibitions of the institution.
List and describe events organized by the institution.
Interview a visitor to the institution.
This is an interview with Emily Afre, the Education Specialist at the Frost Art Museum. This interview was done virtually, a few days after my museum visit, given the complexities of the pandemic.
Can you briefly tell me how you got the job at the museum? What was your job when you started and what is your current job?
I was enrolled in your same class with John Bailey and participated in Aesthetics & Values 2017. My group worked with local artist, Felicia Chizuko Carlisle, where Carlisle performed an experimental sound piece on a sculpture she created, the night of the opening reception. I am a musician and found great interest in Carlisle’s sound performances. I then gave several tours of the exhibition and found myself interning as a docent/Gallery Guide for the museum. In a way, giving tours was like a performance and I enjoyed connecting with people in a conversation about art. During this time, I held the position as Traffic & Training Manager and on-air DJ at WRGP FIU Student-Radio where my primary responsibility was to ensure all staff followed FCC guidelines. Since graduating in 2017, I have served as the Frost’s Education Specialist.
Can you expand on what your job is and what functions, projects or department(s) you oversee?
As Education Specialist I research exhibitions, manage the student Gallery Guide Program, and develop student programming. I also give tours to K-12, University, and community members. I work closely with Director of Education, Miriam Machado. We develop our programs with museum trends and social issues in mind.
As we’re growing up, we always get asked what we want to be when we grow up. Was working in a museum ever in the list of careers you wanted to explore? Did you ever see it as a possibility?
I’ve been involved in the arts my entire life. I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. I do not thrive in stagnant environments and the museum setting allows me to remain creative. I am currently working towards building a career in music as an independent artist.
Have you been able to create any programs or projects within your department? If so, what has been your proudest moment?
A main focus of my job as Education Specialist is on student engagement. I am proud of our DEAI initiatives (Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion, from the American Alliance of Museums Plan). It is important to me that the museum is a safe space for all students. This approach to programming has even extended to educating our staff on LGBTQ+, race, gender, and accessibility.
Since you started working at the museum, which exhibition has been your favorite? And why?
My favorite exhibition so far would have to be Artist as Mystic: Rafael Soriano. This was a retrospective of a Cuban painter whose early work of geometric abstraction morphed into dark surrealism as a direct response to the Cuban Revolution. He managed to achieve a brilliant luminosity in his paintings while using oil paint, which is typically quite dense. That requires a lot of skill! His work gives form to the subconscious and I found myself really encompassed by this. I like to think Soriano’s later work embodies the music of Cocteau Twins, my favorite band.
Can you mention an artist or artwork within the museum’s permanent collection that has a special connection with you either personally or professionally?
I really love Alameda Black (1981) by Richard Serra. It was the first work I would discuss on a tour of the permanent collection and for good reason. At first glance, you’d think you were looking at a black square, but then you start to see texture and its relationship to space. I’d ask people what their impressions were, if it looked like anything familiar to them, how it made them feel – even if “nothing” was an answer. Richard Serra used black oil paint sticks and melted them over a sheet of aluminum; the texture is a consequence of the paint not having been dried completely. This fascinated people – they couldn’t understand how the paint had not dried if the work was created in the early 80s. The aluminum, a non-porous material, does not allow the oil paint to dry as quickly as it would, if it were on a surface like canvas, for example. So in a way, the work is never quite the same at any given moment. To see how this changed the perspective most people had on abstract art was really interesting for me to experience.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your job and the museum in general?
I have been working remotely since March and it’s only recently that the museum has reopened to the public. Now I come in to the office once a week and continue to work from home. I feel extremely grateful that I have had the opportunity to continue working considering the overwhelming amount of individuals who have been unemployed or furloughed because of the pandemic. I miss engaging with classes in the galleries – the energy is not the same via ZOOM, but we make it work!
Taking reference to the exhibitions that have been up this semester “House to House,” “Otros Lados,” and Pepe Mar’s “Tesoro”, I would argue the museum is actively working on showcasing the diversity of Miami while also connecting to the bigger conversations our nation’s dealing with such as gender inequality, racism and lgbtqia+ representation. Was this a decision the museum took given the country’s political climate? Or has the museum always been battling these topics one way or another. Could you elaborate?
As a public institution and university museum, it is our responsibility to educate and inspire the community. In the last few years, the museum has been focusing on efforts to be more diverse and inclusive and this mission is represented in the exhibitions and programming. Art can sometimes serve as a vessel for artists to either respond to these big conversations or encourage dialogue among the viewer, in the hopes of not only bringing awareness to these issues but to motivate others to build a more just world. Exhibitions are usually planned years in advance, House to House was meant to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. The exhibition is now on view and considering the context of the time, we are not only looking at the centennial of the 19th amendment, but also acknowledging the slow progress our country has made as we elect the first woman of color as Vice President. We would have never known the current state of our country then, but it is necessary to change with the times while remaining open to learn and unlearn. When developing student programming, I feel it is crucial that I think about what conversations we should be having with our students. If we can do this through art, then all the better!
In recent years museum workers, all over the country have been speaking out about unfair wages, inequality and even institutionalized racism. Personally, I have found myself working with cultural organizations and art institutions where I am the minority. Do you think the museum is actively trying to battle these situations, whether it’s through the hiring process, the artists that get chosen or the exhibition selection?
FIU has always been an inherently diverse place to work in. As a university-museum, we welcome students and community members from all walks of life. This has always been at the heart of our goals as an institution. Now we are doing what we can to become more educated on current issues related to DEAI like attending trainings, workshops, and amplifying unheard voices through our programming and exhibitions.
Many people often think the museum as a place solely for admiring works of art on a wall. However, many don’t know how much effort the museum goes to create programs and events that interact with the community and the students at the university. Knowing that you worked before at The Roar, the FIU radio station, and have created events that merge both; Would you say collaboration is an important part of the museum experience? Have you been able to see the change in people’s minds about the museum once they have attended one of these events?
Collaboration is key!! When it comes to events and programs, you need to understand your target audience. Once you do, the idea is to build your audience and sometimes this is done as a result of collaborating with other groups and organizations. Most organizations on campus are student-run and everyone deserves to be supported. Art is often a reflection of the people who make it and at the end of the day, we all relate to one another in some capacity. We’ve hosted drag performances, film screenings, and even invited local bands to play, in efforts to connect students to the art in unique or unconventional ways.
Finally, what is your advice for students looking to work within a museum? Is there any particular way to begin this journey?
My advice is to go for it! Lose the self-doubt and apply for opportunities, even if you feel like you may not have enough experience. If you are motivated and willing to learn it will be evident. Sometimes, networking can feel disingenuous or, for a more introverted person like myself, a little difficult. Just remember you are as much of a person as the one you are talking to, so don’t be afraid to be yourself. Feel free to explore different options and once you land an opportunity, decide what it is you hope to learn and set out to achieve those things. I recommend volunteering and/or interning to get a feel for how a museum operates. Internships are a good way to build professional relationships, they give you the room to grow, and offer the chance to test out the waters. I am currently seeking interns for Spring 2021, so if any students would like to apply to the Gallery Guide Program at the Frost Art Museum, please send them my way!
Assess the institution. What works? What doesn’t?