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Risk/Reward

MICA and Morgan State Students Learn More Than Professional Expertise During Exhibition Development Seminar

Uli Loskot
View a slideshow of photographs.

By Bret McCabe | Posted 1/31/2007

Don't let the mild manner, affable smile, and Buddha-chill serenity fool you: George Ciscle is a gambler. And he risks much more than money. Clad in casual slacks and a long-sleeved, button-down shirt that is the colorful, busily designed relative to Cliff Huxtable's sweaters, Ciscle moves through a mostly empty gallery space at the Maryland Historical Society with a feline nonchalance. He passes platforms and risers that sit in groups awaiting their assigned locations and objects to be placed upon them. He passes painting crates leaning against bare walls and opened boxes, their bubble wrap and paper lining spilling out like straw from a scarecrow. He strolls by museum workers and college students, their hands clad in blue gloves to keep their body oils from touching works of art, who attend to tasks, consult design plans and wall elevations, and install pieces. Some of them say hello, but for the most part he swims through the space as if nobody knows he's there. It's one of the reasons he's so calm--even though the show they're setting up opens in roughly three weeks.

For the past 10 years, Ciscle, the Maryland Institute College of Art curator-in-residence, and the students in his Exhibition Development Seminar have staged exhibitions at MICA, as well as a few other area institutions. The "and" in that sentence is misleading, however. It implies that the students are working with Ciscle, and could be misread as implying that they're working for him. And, yes, in traditional undergraduate museum/curatorial studies classes and internships, that is exactly what would happen: Students would come into a project and work for curators, art educators, programming directors, and artists to install an already organized show.

In Ciscle's seminar, the students do all the work. They're divided into teams, given a mentor whom they can consult, and told where they need to be by when, but not how to get there. They contact artists for commissioning and requesting existing works. They design all the paper products to be associated with the show. They plan and execute all the art education outreach and public programs scheduled during the show's run. They map gallery floor plans and wall elevations. They design and build the web site. They write the show's catalog and all accompanying wall text. And, ideally, they do this without needing Ciscle at all.

"For me, I become the most effective when I become the most invisible," Ciscle says, settling into chair in a corner of the gallery. Even his unwavering voice counsels calm. "I say to them, `When it reaches a point in this course when I see that I can literally walk out of the classroom and it continues without me, then I feel we're getting someplace.'"

He's not kidding. "When George first explained, `I'm going to be here as kind of a supervisor, but you guys are going to do all the work, you're going to do all the planning and all the learning,' I was kind of going, `Well, you're going to show us how to do things, right?'" says Fin O'Dea, a 20-year-old MICA video/photography major junior who hails from Dillon, Colo., and one of this year's 36 seminar students. "I didn't know what this was going to be about. It's kind of like you're blindfolded but somebody you trust is holding your hand."

The current seminar class, which started in the fall 2005 semester and includes students from MICA and Morgan State University, finally sees what it's come up with this weekend with the opening of At Freedom's Door: Challenging Slavery in Maryland at both the Maryland Historical Society and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture. This multidimensional show includes historical artifacts and contemporary artworks, and is conceived as a dialogue between two historical societies that don't always overlap in their interests in order to confront one of this country's--this state's, this city's--most horrific periods and how the realities of that era ripple into the present. It includes two artists-in-residence--the chair of MICA's undergraduate art education, Joan Gaither, and Portland, Ore.-based painter Arvie Smith--new commissions from seven artists, and existing works from 14 artists. It's an audacious idea, and the rub is that if the students have done their jobs well, nobody will notice. Like sound recording and cinematography in a movie, when exhibitions are designed correctly you don't notice it.

"It's the curse of the exhibit design and lighting design--you only notice it when it's bad or when it's wrong," says Glenn Shrum over the phone. He is the mentor to the current exhibition design team and a five-year veteran mentor to Ciscle's seminar. "This year, specifically, has been challenging because the scope of the students' work--not just the exhibition design students' work, but the curatorial issues are so much more broad than they've ever been before in terms of working with both institutions and the simple square footage of the space, but also using such a range of different kinds of work. So you have all the complexity of a contemporary art show with all the complexity of a historical show."

"It's the most ambitious, by far," Ciscle says of At Freedom's Door. "It's the most ambitious for the layers of the institutions involved, in having two curators from other institutions, two project coordinators from other institutions and their staffs, everything about it is. And in the subject matter, no question--this is the most ambitious thing we've done."

And therein lies the biggest risk of all: For At Freedom's Door, Ciscle has convinced the staffs at two major cultural institutions in a major U.S. city to let 36 college student from around the country--and, in a few cases, around the world--research, develop, plan, design, and execute a statement about slavery in Maryland, which will, in turn, be a statement about race in America. No pressure, there.

"I don't know if there's ever been a more important message to get right," Shrum says. "And the students have taken that part of it incredibly seriously. I think no one would deny that this is the most challenging project that the seminar has ever taken on, and it's for a number of reasons."

Over the phone, you can almost hear Shrum shaking his head as he laughs. "The irony is I don't think the students know how hard their project is, how much they're biting off. This would be a real challenging project for professionals who have been doing this for 20 years. So maybe that's a benefit--not knowing what they're in for."

 

Just before 4 p.m. on the first Wednesday in December, the seminar students gather on the fourth floor of MICA's Blunting Building for their weekly 2.5-hour meeting. They spread themselves around a rounded square of desktops, opening laptops, hauling out phone-book-thick binders of notes, and spreading pages out in front of them. Vending-machine snacks and bottles of water take places next to said notebooks and computers. Other students grab chairs directly behind the desks or squeeze their way between classmates. They gather roughly in their nine organizational teams--art education, contemporary curatorial, exhibition design, graphic design, historical curatorial, media, public programs, web-site design, and writing. The room hums with voices like an idling Chevy Nova.

You almost don't even notice the 59-year-old Ciscle sitting among them: He might as well be the class wallflower. Eventually, he does call the class to order, and passes out an agenda for the day that makes this visitor think we might be here until the students are old enough to collect Social Security.

And then he doesn't say another word. Teams get up and bring the rest of the class up to date on their progress. The curatorial teams inform everybody on the objects' arrival dates and what they're still waiting to hear about. The art education team presents the design for a young person's workbook to be available at both institutions. The writing team presents the latest version of exhibition statement copy. Through all of these presentations, the rest of the class ask questions, say what they do and do not like, and what they want to make sure is in there if it's not already. It's very much a workshop/critique situation, where the teams share what they've come up with, outside of class, since the last session.

After a short break, the web-site development team presents its latest batch of designs, and for the first time this evening the class doesn't reach anything resembling a majority opinion. The team projects its designs onto a screen off a laptop and offers four different variations on a single idea. Backgrounds change from a soft yellow--"Not the yellow up there," one of the students points out. "It's different on the monitor"--to a matte white. In one the opening text is placed inside a border, on another on a different background. Horizontal and vertical lines come and go. The top banner changes, the font inside the top banner changes, and the class is evenly divided about what they do and do not prefer. They can't even decide on what sort of animation and color-change activity they prefer for the pop-up dialogue boxes for when the mouse point crosses a site map on the left-hand side of the page.

Finally, the web-site design team members say that they have to make some specific decisions today, because they want to launch the site by January and have it live before the show opens Feb. 3. And so the class decides they have to vote.

Everybody laughs out loud, as if sharing some secret joke. Ciscle smiles and breaks in. "I think we need to point out to our visitor that this is the first time in three semesters that we've ever voted on anything," he says, and a roomful of heads turns toward said visitor and nod in agreement.

Ciscle laughs when asked about it later. "The decision-making process for everything in my class is a real democratic one--not democratic in the sense that everyone has a right to vote, but in the sense that everyone has a voice," he says. "Typically, someone puts the question out or puts the proposal out that we need to make decisions on, and everyone has a chance to weigh in on it, and then, usually, that team takes all that into consideration and comes back to the class with everything they think they wanted. That's never done with a vote. I've never called for a vote--it's like a joke. You saw the class' reaction.

"The few times in the class when somebody has even suggested [a vote], it always comes at a point where there's an impasse," he continues. "They're frustrated, they're tired, and they think, This is enough. Let's just vote, we can't get past this point. But they've learned that they've got to get past that point, and they take pride in that--they've never voted. And I felt like I had to let you know--not that I was going to stop them--that this is not how we reached decisions. They simply knew they were at a point in all this where decisions had to be made right then so that the web-site design team could get to where they needed to be."

Ciscle's unorthodox, almost anarchic, and surprisingly effective seminar organization has been shaped through trial and error, learning how to orchestrate this class alongside his students learning how to mount exhibitions. In fact, he basically had this class thrust upon him by students in 1997.

George Ciscle has been a fixture in the local arts community for more than three decades. He developed interdisciplinary education programs to teach young people in Baltimore city and county schools. From 1985 to '89 he ran his George Ciscle Gallery on Morton Street in Mount Vernon. And in 1989, he founded the then-"museum without walls" Contemporary Museum, which he shepherded alongside curator Lisa Corrin until 1996. Throughout, he established an impeccable history of mounting inventive, intriguing exhibitions.

After he left the Contemporary, he was modestly working on a retrospective of Elizabeth Talford Scott, local artist Joyce Scott's mother. He presented the idea to MICA's exhibitions committee with the idea that the college could be the host institution, with Ciscle as a guest curator. MICA approved, and in the spring semester of 1997 Ciscle was given an intern to help him with the project.

About a month into the project, that intern, a young woman, told Ciscle that she had a number of friends who were very interested in what she was doing and wanted to know if they could intern for him, too. Ciscle didn't know how that would work, but he did agree to meet with them.

"So she called this meeting, and I went in, and it was her and nine other women--10 women, I'll never forget it--sitting around this table," Ciscle remembers. "And they said, `We want to work with you and learn this and that and that.' And I don't know how that would work as interns, and I remember one of them clearly saying, `You should just teach us--have a course and we'll be your students.' And I said, `That sounds interesting. How do I do that?' And they said, `Go talk to the dean.'"

Long story short, MICA approved, Ciscle was named guest curator teaching part-time, and he had his debut Exhibition Design Seminar: 10 women and two men. ("I told them I would not teach this course with all women because we're working with an artist who is going to be looked at as craft, as fiber, as quilting, as these traditional things typically associated with household femininity, and just from a gender perspective we have to have men in here," he recalls. "And they agreed, so they went and recruited two guys.")

Eyewinkers, Tumbleturds, and Candlebugs: The Art of Elizabeth Talford Scott opened in February 1998, and Ciscle immediately recognized what he wanted to be doing with himself. "Once it opened I saw where I really wanted to be heading," he says. "I loved working with artists, I loved working on exhibitions, and the outreach in the community and all that, I've always loved that. And then I saw this other component, as an educator of young people--they're the agents of change for the future, not me. I can just hopefully set an environment for them to explore and expand their minds. So I saw where that, as an educator and curator, that kind of relationship that I was having with those students and the artists and the exhibition and the community was sort of taking what I was doing at the Contemporary and putting it in an educational setting."

 

Each year the project is different, each year the subject matter is different, and each year the students are different. The lone constant is that the students are given a full-time job's worth of work and responsibilities. "That first day he came in he dropped the fact that it's a two-year project on us, dropped the subject matter on us, and said, `So if you want to leave at break, leave,'" recalls Elena Rosemond, a 20-year-old junior photography major at MICA and member of the public programs team. A tall, lively auburn-haired young woman from Durham, N.C., Rosemond speaks as if everything about the class tickles her to no end, ending every recollection of the class' headaches and difficulties with a laugh. "There was about 60 people there at first that was whittled down to thirtysomething after break--because it was intimidating. He was intimidating in that first class--the workload is immense, and he makes no secret about it. He's very honest about how much dedication and time it requires, and it scared a lot of people off."

The class wasn't always structured in that way. Up until Joyce Scott's 2000 Kickin' It With the Old Masters at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the seminar was structured more conventionally: students working almost as apprentices to institutional professionals. But during Scott's show, Ciscle realized the students were capable of handling much more.

"It was definitely about what I saw that they were capable of," Ciscle says. "Secondly, it was about seeing what they were able to get out of it and what they weren't able to get out of being at a museum in an apprentice kind of situation. They were learning lots of things--in the real world with professionals--but at the same time there was only so much they were allowed to do. So I reversed it. The students are now the point people, and the museums and mentors work for and with them."

And with Freedom, that was a hard sell. When it comes to dealing exclusively with students, "I have to admit that it does take the professionals involved to get around that," says Margaret Hutto, exhibits manager at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum and that institution's project coordinator for this show. "And part of it is sort of a give-and-take. With the students, you sort of have to get them to understand that we're putting our careers on the line and we're putting them in your hands. And because of that, we do expect a certain level that you may not be used to giving to a class. We expect more than that."

And the students recognize that expectation early on. "I don't know why we've chosen to take on so much or why we've done all the things that we've done, but I'm glad we have, because [Ciscle] really didn't tell us what to do," says Aidah Aliyah Rasheed, a junior photography major at Morgan State. As part of the art education team, the 21-year-old Morgan tennis team member from Berkeley, Calif., has planned teacher workshops, developed lesson plans that coincide with the Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum, and coordinated free Saturday workshops for young people during the exhibition's run. "Everything that everyone's come up with--from the booklets to the themes to the art--it's come from us. He didn't tell us to do anything. And it's amazing that we have done so much. We didn't wait to have George tell us what to do, we just did it. He watched over us and made sure we were on track."

"My teacher evaluations after the first semester always read, `He doesn't teach us,'" Ciscle laughs. "Always. As the second semester progresses they start to see where this is all going, and throughout they know that if they can't settle something as a team or a class, if their professional mentor isn't able to advise them on how to proceed, they then have to come to me as a mediator to resolve the situation."

That level of student involvement, that energy they bring to the endeavor, is what attracted commissioned artist William Christenberry to the project. "One reason I did it was because of the students, because it was a student project," he says during a January interview at the Maryland Historical Society while he was in town from his Washington, D.C., home to install his work. A tall, cordial man in a crisp plaid shirt and khakis, Christenberry, a Tuscaloosa, Ala., native, has lived in Washington since 1968, but he hasn't lost his courtly Southern gentleman's accent. "Their perspective was contagious, their enthusiasm was contagious. We discussed things like my motives, my intentions, my desires--I've been so impressed with the students I've worked with already, with their intensity, with their desire to realize this. They asked me some questions I couldn't answer. They are terrific to work with."

Christenberry's included work is a gorgeous, haunting, and eerily effective installation that confronts and deals with heinous hooded figures. "The students had heard or knew of something of my work dealing with, in this specific case, racism and the Ku Klux Klan," Christenberry says. "This work goes back to the early 1960s for me--not specifically these pieces that we're installing now, but that need to express, on my part, something about intolerance, injustice, and racism. I was born in Alabama, so I know something about that."

Such personal experiences--before, through, and around this class--are what has energized and empowered the students to tackle this huge endeavor with the level of commitment that they have. Over the first semester, fall 2005, Ciscle had the class pursue research into Maryland slavery's history. In small teams and individually, students hit the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Maryland Historical Society's archives, the state archives in Annapolis, the library holdings of Morgan State and Howard universities, and the Library of Congress to dig up manumission papers, information about daily life for free and enslaved blacks, working conditions, what Baltimore's and Annapolis' port status had on slavery--just about anything to do with the time period. They traveled to every county in the state to meet with regional historical societies, churches, and community foundations, searching for what stories and artifacts might be available to them.

"My research was African-American labor in Baltimore in the 19th century, so dealing with what jobs were available for free and enslaved African-Americans," says Melani Douglass. The twentysomething Douglass is a post-baccalaureate Morgan student, returning to school after teaching for the past five years in Baltimore and Washington. The Baltimore native is also the great-great-great-granddaughter of Frederick Douglass. "It was a very vibrant community then," Douglass says. "There was a lot of adversity, but there was also a strong population that was here that was making the possible out of a very impossible situation.

"And I think that Maryland created an even harder time for these people because, at any time, any of this could be taken away from them," she continues. "You're in the South, basically, and there were so many things that could put this livelihood in danger. To not know freedom is one thing, to dream of freedom is another. But to know freedom, to taste it, to feel it, to live it and then have that taken away from you is just a whole other level of enslavement, so it was very interesting to research the work culture here."

Over that first semester, Ciscle had the students report their findings back to the class. All their research was put into binders, and it served the pragmatic aspect of helping the eventual historical curatorial team know what it might be able to borrow for the show. This research--and the ensuing, often intense class discussions that bubbled up around it--also calibrated every single class member's brain to the seriousness of their endeavor as they were repeatedly bombarded with the knotted history of race, power, and economics in this city, state, and country.

It was quite effective. "Just, for instance, the title of the show--At Freedom's Door: Challenging Slavery in Maryland," says Joan Gaither, the artist-in-residence. "If you don't say the whole thing because you're a little leery about using the word `slavery,' you just say `at freedom's door,' it could be about Iraq, Afghanistan, it could be about anything. So to sort of understand the ramifications and the totality of the whole thing, just getting the class to say the [entire] title of the show, was one of those things. And it was like at one point in the class you could just see it on everybody's face: What have I gotten myself into? This is really big."

"I definitely saw a shift and I think a lot of it was from the conversations they had in class when they started to present the research they had come up with," the Lewis Museum's Hutto says. "I think they really didn't understand how big a deal the subject matter really is and, for the state of Maryland, to tackle that type of subject matter with two institutions that are very diverse in their areas of study and expertise, I think it took the students a little bit of time to understand why some of the professionals were a little bit more antsy. And, for us, we had to get them to understand that it can't be a superficial show. You really do have to make sure that it has some substance to it and that it's presented in a way where we're as clear as possible."

"I think the things that have become most surprising for me is having to really focus on considering every aspect of something," says Alex Matzner, a junior graphic design and art history major at MICA. As part of the graphic design team, the 20-year-old from Miami has helped design every paper product associated with the show--from letterhead to opening and public program invitations to brochures and a children's booklet. "Every decision we make, realizing that it will have repercussions on how people will view our decisions or how it will be read.

"And so we talked a lot about race," she continues. "We had a lot of meetings where people were crying and very emotional, and it really set the tone for the class. And it's been interesting, because we have students from Israel and students who come from South America, and it's just been interesting to hear how race has been a part of people's lives, how they've been treated, about the meaning of minority, because a lot of us are really just visitors to Baltimore and Maryland in general. Just to understand the social, economic, and political forces that have affected this city and still affect this city--that has been really important for me in what I know about myself, recognizing how I am a part of the situation and community now. I think a lot of us found how we were connected to this city through this."

 

"The students have been doing a lot of really good work in terms of the curatorial process and designing the exhibition, but I just have to say I feel they've come a long way in being able to talk about and being comfortable with talking about the subject of race and slavery in Maryland and in America," Michael Roman says. The 25-year-old Atlanta native is a graduate student in MICA's community arts department and Hutto's intern at the Lewis Museum. "I know in my year and a half of living in Baltimore race is such an underlying factor to the way many things happen in this city, and it's never talked about. It's a taboo subject, or people aren't comfortable with it, or people just don't talk about it--whatever. It never comes out. That aspect of whatever issue is forcibly ignored. And these students have come a long way in being able to have that conversation and have it intelligently and really speak about it, and not in a disrespectful way or a `I think I know everything way' or an `I get it' way, but just understanding that it is a factor and there maybe are things they don't understand and they're willing to try to understand the things they don't. And that's big--just for the success for the show and in general."

In separate interviews with nine different seminar students, two interesting constants appeared. One, unless asked specifically about themselves and their specific involvement, they never say "I" with respect to the class--everything is in the terms of the first-person plural. Two, every student has remarked that that first semester was emotionally rough--and that the exhibition would have been almost impossible without it.

"The first semester, I hated my partner Melani," Rosemond says. "She comes across so aggressively sometimes. And I think I came into the class with a lot of baggage because I'm a white woman from the South. And the whole first semester was a lot of people attacking the South, and I was already really defensive, and a lot of times I felt like Melani was attacking me because she was always right there with something to say and with a response. But then I got to know her, and I understand where she's coming from and from where she approaches arguments and debates, which is good, and I just--I just adore her."

For many students, the class brought the subject of race into a light with which they've never really had to contend. "It's hard because my mother and father didn't talk to me about slavery," Morgan State student Rasheed says. "I learned about it in school, but in school you don't really learn about it. So in this class, everything we were doing was around slavery and race and racism, so it kind took over our lives, and I went through a really hard time just taking this all in--and this is our subject matter, this is what we were going to be addressing. I mean, I was the first one to break down in class because we went to visit the Hampton mansion, and when I was there this weird feeling came over me. And it's--it's a plantation. But I got more comfortable when we started talking about things in class."

The measure of that comfort was tested last semester as the exhibition's literature was being finalized. The tag line stated that the show was a partnership between MICA, the Maryland Historical Society, and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum--with no mention of Morgan. It wasn't a slight--those three institutions carried the economic burden of the show--but the class didn't want to leave it at that.

"So people were, like, `Well, are people going to think the Morgan students are here because they're black?'" Rasheed says. "And MICA's a predominantly white institution, and Morgan's a historically black college, but I feel like I own this just like a student from MICA. And I feel like the Morgan students, we all feel that we're all a part of it. It's not about which students you are--we've all contributed something unique to this exhibition."

"People were upset that it was just answered as that `Morgan State didn't contribute financially,' because they were never asked to contribute," says Rebecca Nagle, a 20-year-old MICA fibers major who hails from Kansas and is a member of the exhibition design team. "It implied neglect instead of active participation."

The class discussed it, but some felt it wasn't adequately addressed in class. So about 15 students met on a Friday night at Morgan State to talk about it some more. They weren't going to be able to change anything--the financial situation of the exhibition was entirely decided by the three funding institutions--so all they could do was come to terms with the situation among themselves.

"So students got together on a Friday night and had this really, really long discussion about race--just the students," Nagle says. "I don't even know if George knew it was happening. But, it wasn't like one thing was decided--I don't know. We just talked about the race dynamics of the class in general, and people talked about their personal relationships with race, and it was just really, really amazing that college students wanted to spend their Friday night doing this. I was crying, it was really intense, it was really beautiful, and everyone was just really gracious toward one another. And the level of honesty and the level of respect that people had for that discussion--I think the one thing that I would want to take from the class is that night because it was so powerful."

Even the adults recognized that the students were getting something out of this experience that was more than a mere professional exhibition training. "I told the class, having grown up black in America and being the age that I am, I could not envision being in this situation ever in my life," Gaither says of the seminar. "I am a 60-plus woman who, not this year, but when the class was going in 2006, I was called `nigger' three times--twice as people were driving by my home while I'm out there fixing it up. And I'm thinking, This is 2006? That stuff still lingers. And I just thought we have all of these just diverse folks and young people and old people and students that are able to talk about these issues in a very open forum and to feel safe to take that risk to talk about those ideas. I have to be honest, I never thought that I would live long enough to see and be a part of that."

 

Obviously, the goal of the Exhibition Development Seminar isn't merely to mount an exhibition. "The goal for me in my role at the Maryland Institute is to provide this learning experience for these young artists," Ciscle says. "So they not only can start to consider themselves in the world as an artist and their relationship to the audience and the larger community--that's where it begins--it's about what they can learn and what they can apply to themselves as artists and people in the world. And that hopefully expands their horizons as to the possibilities as an artist. Not just in terms of exhibiting their work and writing about it, but in how they're able to communicate about art to other people."

The seminar is, succinctly, a threading together of Ciscle's lifelong interests in young people's educational development, exhibitions, and community outreach. "This, for me, continues to be a laboratory," he says. "There are many ways to do an exhibition, and let's look at the pros and cons of different ways and learn it by trial and error and keep learning and learning and making it something that is much better for both the artist and audience every time we do it. I never talk to the students about other teams and other projects I did until after the project is over. It starts from scratch--it's a new thing each time."

"There's probably no other class or program in the country that dives into it in this level, where you're getting this hands-on training and learning experience," MICA grad student Roman says of the seminar. "I've worked at another cultural institution in undergrad, and another job I had at that same school kept me very close with its graduate museum studies department, and they were not doing anything nearly as in-depth as this. So to have this kind of work experience and the depth of subject matter, the combination of the two just amazing."

Which raises the question: Why isn't something like this seminar done more often?

"There's so many risks involved," Ciscle says. "The trust factor--you're asking everyone involved to trust that it will all work out. It's about letting go of the pre-existing ways of working and ways of doing things, and that's very hard for people to do. And it's a very drawn-out, sometimes painful, always frustrating way of working, but that is, for me, the end result is always a better product--and not just for the students involved. It's growth and development, both artistically and personally, for everyone. And if it wasn't, I certainly wouldn't continue working this way."

On Feb. 3 the students' work faces its biggest critics: the general public. And while they're excited that--finally--their work is going to be unveiled, some are a little apprehensive about how it's going to be received. "I'm worried that people will go to the show and be like, `That was a nice exhibition,'" Rasheed says. "`I bet you got a good letter of recommendation from that.'"

For the past year and a half, the 36 students of the Exhibition Development Seminar have lived with a project that they knew was big--a big subject, with big themes, big responsibilities, and, if they didn't come correct, the potential for big failure. And the hardest part still lies ahead: getting people to care.

"Big is relative," Douglass says. "Being in political office is big, being mayor is big--but if you don't do a good job, you're not so big. If it's not executed well, it's just another four years of nothing. But when you get someone who really gets in there and does a good job, really makes things happen and change happens and you see it and people are a part of it and it becomes something you feel out in the population, then it becomes, `Oh my god--this is big.' And I think at that point, that's when I'll say, `This is a big project.'"

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