Taubman Museum of Art in downtown Roanoke. Photo courtesy of the Taubman Museum of Art.
Students produce audio guides for Taubman Museum of Art
Visitors to the contemporary art collection at the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke will now be able to access audio guides that were written and recorded by art history students at Roanoke College.
The project, which was completed by students in Associate Professor Julia Sienkewicz’s Fall 2022 Global Contemporary Art course, will be celebrated during a reception at the Taubman on Saturday, March 18 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. The reception is free and open to the public, and attendees should meet in the Taubman’s former café space before joining the group to visit the exhibition.
For the project, which made up a large chunk of the course grade, each student in the class selected a contemporary piece in the Taubman’s permanent collection and wrote a five-page visual analysis. They then refined those papers, sometimes conducting additional research on the piece, and converted them into an audio script. After Taubman staff approved the scripts, they were recorded to be used as audio guides. The guides were required to be brief, accessible to listeners of a variety of education levels, and – perhaps most important – interesting.
Lily Hopkins ’26 selected “Chief Beautician,” a painting on wood by American artist Howard Finster. She said the biggest challenge of the project was making her audio guide engaging for listeners.
“When you’re writing an essay for class, you just care about getting the point across,” she said, “but since this is going to be played for real life people doing their real life things, I didn’t want them to be like, ‘This sounds boring’ and then immediately move on. I wanted to make it a more compelling experience for them.”
In all, Sienkewicz’s students created eight audio guides. To access the guides, visitors will simply call a number listed on the museum label for each piece. In addition to making the guides, students enjoyed guest appearances in the class by the Museum’s community engagement staff, who conducted training for the audio guide recordings and did a session on professional development.
“The Taubman has been an excellent collaborator. It has been a venue where students can have all kinds of professional and real-world opportunities to engage with art and engage with the community that looks at art. ”
~ Associate Professor Julia Sienkewicz
Sienkewicz said this is not the first time one of her classes has collaborated with the Taubman. In 2019, her students produced guides for a temporary exhibition of work by American painter, sculptor and printmaker Hunt Slonem. That exhibition has since moved on from the Taubman, but the new contemporary art guides will be available indefinitely.
“The Taubman has been an excellent collaborator,” Sienkewicz said. “It has been a venue where students can have all kinds of professional and real-world opportunities to engage with art and engage with the community that looks at art. The students are so proud of that work and excited to have something that is not just on paper, but something they can put on their resumes.”
Cindy Petersen, executive director at the Taubman, said museum staff enjoy working with Roanoke College students on projects in the galleries, and they value the College’s participation as an institutional member.
“Their research offers fresh new perspectives that enhance the artworks’ scholarship and enrich visitors’ experiences,” she said. “I hope everyone at Roanoke College visits the Taubman soon to experience the works on view and the audio guide recordings that help bring them to life!”
Hopkins, who plans to major in chemistry at Roanoke, admitted that she didn’t expect to love an art history class as much as she did, but it ended up being her favorite class of the term. She found the audio guide project especially fulfilling.
“At first I was really nervous about getting the opportunity because it was such a big deal,” she said, “but it ended up being a lot of fun and an experience I was glad to have.”