What does art mean? How do you convey artistic content in a world in transition, with its digital, technological and mobile possibilities? And how do you interact these days with museum visitors of all ages to facilitate their access to various exhibitions, new perspectives and knowledge horizons? These are the questions that concern the Volkswagen Fellows. This is a scholarship program sponsored by the Group for museum talents which enables young professionals to gain practical experience in the cultural field, as well as promoting cultural education and mediation in new ways.
With the support programme launched in 2012, Volkswagen supports young scholarship holders in the field of culture on their qualification path r. Access and financial freedom enable Volkswagen Fellows to work on innovative methods, experimental forms and sustainable concepts for communicating contemporary art. While gaining insight behind the scenes into cultural institutions, the participants support not only the research departments and event teams, but also the museum archive and museum management of the respective institutions.
There are currently four young women active t the Städtische Galerie in Wolfsburg, the MoMA PS1 in New York, and the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin: Jenny Dirksen, Jelena Toopeekoff, Ellie Burck and Harper Jean. The four Volkswagen Fellows come from two different continents but are united by a common enthusiasm: the love of art and the passion to bring it closer to others. In New York, Berlin and Wolfsburg, the members of the Volkswagen Fellowship program are now meeting up for the first time, both to exchange professional views and learn from each other but also to get to know the respective partner cities, museum staff such as Wendy Woon, the Edward John Nobel Foundation Deputy Director for Education, and the work of the institutions.
These include the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York, one of the most highly frequented museums in the world, holding one of the world’s most significant and influential collections of modern and contemporary art. More than 80 years ago, it dedicated itself to both museum and educational work, and it also sponsors one of the most important development spaces for contemporary art: MoMA PS1. Volkswagen Group of America has been supporting MoMA and MoMA PS1 as an official partner since 2011. Since 2015, Volkswagen has also been the “Lead Partner of Education”.
Volkswagen and MoMA
More than 40 projects have already been realized with the help of the partnership between Volkswagen and MoMA: 10 exhibitions, installations in the famous sculpture garden, VW Sunday Sessions in the VW Dome, 7 Art Labs, 13 VW Fellows, the expansion of the online educational program, educational programs for families, seniors, teachers and school classes, people with disabilities and various civic organizations. With EXPO:1, the partnership enabled an international art project which ultimately provided the impetus for the presentation of the art installation “Rain Room” in Shanghai for the first time. The construction of the VW Dome, sponsored by Volkswagen Group of America, expanded the possibilities of MoMA PS1. The popular VW Sunday Sessions have been taking place there for over 6 years. As the main partner of the educational program, Volkswagen Group of America also sponsored a wide variety of educational museum offerings such as "The People's Studio", "Art Lab", "Gallery Sessions" and "Prime Time". Another milestone in the collaboration is the availability of six online art seminars, accessible via the Coursera platform, interactive apps and free downloads.
One of the main aims of MoMA is to enable art to form a link between cultures, people and ideas. To do so, the protagonists have largely relied on participative experiences within the institution, as well as interactive digital installations which enable the public to get to know the museum. In October 2019, the famous New York Museum will also be opening an extension called "The Platform", which will place the MoMA's Education Program at the heart of the museum's activities, allowing visitors to experiment with ideas and interact with the public.
The Volkswagen Fellows Ellie Burck and Harper Jean are currently also working at MoMA PS1. Ellie Burck's department are digital media. At the famous art institution in the Queens district of New York, her task is to edit videos of live performances every day for the artists and digital archive. It’s a dream job, for which she happily moved from Michigan to New York City. Harper Jean shows similar enthusiasm for her work. The communication studies graduate development of special events at MoMA PS1.. A challenging task, particularly when it involves organizing parties, the seven museum nights a year, or photo shoots.
For the German Volkswagen Fellow Jenny Dirksen, MoMA is even a source of inspiration for her own work at the exhibition house KUNST-WERKE (also known as the KW Institute of Contemporary Art, or KW for short) in Berlin. KUNST-WERKE is one of the central locations of contemporary art in the German capital. It was founded in the 1990s by Klaus Biesenbach – the former director of MoMA PS1 – together with colleagues, in a former margarine factory. During her research project, the art history graduate is working as a Volkswagen Fellow on the preparation and development of an archive. This will make the collection and the history of KW from the last 25 years digitally accessible to the public. This work is similar to what MoMA has already created in its premises: a permanent room integrated into the museum space, which makes it possible for people to experience history. To achieve this, Jenny Dirksen must systematically sift through the collection.
KUNST-WERKE in Berlin is similar to MoMA in New York in its mode of operation, and not just because of its current endeavor to build a public archive and its connection to Klaus Biesenbach. As a vibrant location for Berlin residents and the international art scene, KUNST-WERKE and MoMA offer a broad range of cultural and educational mediation programs. When the Volkswagen Fellows visited the Auguststraße premises in Berlin, curator Cathrin Meyer gave a concise overview of KUNST-WERKE during a guided tour of the exhibition rooms, which are currently under reconstruction: explaining how, through the commitment and courage of a group of young art enthusiasts headed by Klaus Biesenbach in the early 1990s, the premises developed into an institution for contemporary art. But also how the makers of KUNST-WERKE promote culture through various events such as the “Pogo Bar”, projects such as “REALITY”, and a café located in the inner courtyard.
Pogo Bar, REALITY
The POGO BAR, which already existed in the KW cellar vault in the late 1990s and early 2000s, has housed a weekly alternating program of performances, readings, interventions, film screenings and discussions since the beginning of 2017. The project "REALTY" deals with the role of contemporary art in connection with gentrification.
As the invitation of the “MoMA Lead Partner of Education” Volkswagen Group, selected participants of the MoMA online seminar program to get an impression of the meeting at KW in Berlin. For the first time, online users from Germany met with the MoMA Education Team from New York. As one of the world’s most innovative cultural institutions, MoMA provides online access to its resources to art lovers all over the world. With the help of Volkswagen Group of America, the range of online seminars offered has been significantly expanded since 2014 and supplemented by a range of free courses. Over 600,000 people all over the world have used the seminars to date.
The visit to Wolfsburg also showed that art mediators and educators make an enormous contribution when they create access across all generations to ideas and works by artists who are significant for our social discourse.
This is where the freelance art mediator Jelena Toopeekoff works, as Volkswagen Fellow at the Städtische Galerie Wolfsburg. For her, the fellowship means, above all, the opportunity to bring scholarship, philosophy and art mediation together. On the one hand in order to develop and continue new debates and discussions within art mediation, and on the other hand in order to explore in greater depth the questions of how to integrate visitors into museums and exhibition halls. With the support of Dr. Susanne Pfleger, the director of the Städtische Galerie, she has also created a room in the museum dedicated specifically to art education.
By sponsoring the VW Fellows, who also undertook a tour through the Autostadt as part of their meeting and exchange with other scholarship holders in New York, Berlin and Wolfsburg, Volkswagen is demonstrating that its commitment to art and culture is of particular importance to the Group. Not only because art changes our views of things in the world, but also because cultural discussion and cultural diversity form crucial foundations for value-oriented and progress-driven social interaction. Soon, another Volkswagen Fellow will be added when another fellowship is created within the framework of the partnership with the Nationalgalerie in Berlin.
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