Looking back, looking forward: Avenir Museum launches virtual exhibit on teaching collection

Orlando Dugi at exhibit

Artist Orlando Dugi speaks with patrons last fall at his first solo exhibition, held at the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising.

The Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising has launched a virtual exhibit about the history of its teaching collection — a website that lets users share not only their memories, but also their ideas for the future of the museum.

The effort, a collaboration with the CSU Libraries, was funded by a $75,295 CARES Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The NEH received more than 2,300 applications from organizations affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and funded only 317 grants.

Avenir Curator Katie Knowles says the project was originally envisioned in Spring 2019 as an in-person exhibit for Fall 2020. In 2019, intern Carly Boerrigter conducted interviews with key figures in the museum’s history and documented every exhibit that used the university’s historic clothing and textile collection since 1986, when it was located in the Gifford Building. Graduate assistant Courtney Morgan and volunteer Zoe Volpa recorded additional interviews in early 2020.

But the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a shift to an online approach.

This summer, after the NEH grant was secured, staff from the CSU Libraries digitized scores of photos, brochures, flyers and other printed materials from the museum for display on the new website, called “Threads of Our Community: A History of the Avenir Museum.” The scanned items were also added to the regional open-access repository Mountain Scholar.

“Now our museum is well-represented in the digital archive of the University,” Knowles said, crediting the efforts of Trista Barker, Helen Baer and Yongli Zhou at the Libraries in particular. “It’s been such a wonderful collaboration with the Libraries. Librarians are the unsung heroes of so many stories.”

Former curator Carlson to give Nov. 5 talk

On Nov. 5 at 5:30 p.m., the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising will host an online conversation with CSU alumna and curator emerita Linda Carlson.

“It’s really thanks to her that the museum is what it is today,” said Avenir Curator Katie Knowles, who will talk with Carlson about her memories of the teaching collection during the event.

Viewers will be able to submit questions to Carlson, who will be at the museum showing off some of her favorite items in the collection and giving a behind-the-scenes look at Avenir storage areas that are off-limits to visitors.

To register for the Zoom session, visit advancing.colostate.edu/ CURATORCONVERSATIONS1.

Linda Carlson arranging dress

Curator Emerita Linda Carlson, right, and former graduate student Anali Ortega prepare a gown for photography.

Telling stories

Faculty putting away clothing
Retired CSU faculty members Anne Kylen, left, and Jan Else put away items in the collection.

Speaking of stories, the new website’s “Stories” section features information and images about the history of the museum and its teaching collection, organized into five themes: “Old Beginnings,” “Friendraising a Collection,” “Textiles on the Move,” “For Our Students” and “On Exhibit.”

There is also a section in which community members can share their memories — or even upload a digital file — about the Avenir and its collection.

“We wanted to give them a space to tell us those stories,” Knowles said.

Another section invites users to share their ideas for possible next steps at the museum. It’s an appropriate feature, since the museum’s name comes from the French word for “future.”

“We wanted to show our past and how people contributed to it, but also collect input on where to go in the future,” Knowles explained. “I really wanted that to be part of the virtual experience too.”

New opportunities

She adds that with the Avenir Museum closed to the public this fall due to the pandemic, the project provided a new opportunity to experiment with virtual methods of exhibiting work, and that will pay dividends going forward.

“This is the first time I’ve curated a virtual exhibit,” Knowles said, “and a virtual environment is so profoundly different from an in-person exhibit. But I think this will expand the number of people who can contribute. And this has opened the door for other types of virtual experiences in the future.”

Project team for the virtual exhibit

  • Jenna Allen, CSU Libraries
  • Helen Baer, CSU Libraries
  • Trista Barker, CSU Libraries
  • Doreen Beard, Avenir Museum
  • Carly Boerrigter, Avenir Museum
  • Katie Knowles, Avenir Museum
  • Courtney Morgan, Avenir Museum
  • Megan Osborne, Avenir Museum
  • Dawn Paschal, CSU Libraries
  • Mark Shelstad, CSU Libraries
  • Heather Short, Avenir Museum
  • Zoe Volpa, Avenir Museum
  • Marcella Wells, Avenir Museum
  • Yongli Zhou, CSU Libraries

Knowles also explained that this has served as a chance for members of the community to reconnect.

“During this time, when we all feel disconnected, this is an opportunity to make a connection for those who are part of the CSU family,” Knowles explains. “This is a chance for them to have a campus experience virtually. We’ve also missed working with our volunteers in person so much, and this was a way to get good feedback and touch base with them.”

The Avenir Museum is in the Department of Design and Merchandising, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.