If you’ve attended our fall open house, a noontime art talk, or any other public program this semester, you’ve no doubt observed the organizational skills of Jordia Benjamin, the new Mirken Coordinator of Academic and Public Programs. The Lantern sat down with her recently to learn about her background, her goals for the position, and how The Bahamas native has been finding Central Maine.
Only one month into your time at Colby, you planned the fantastic fall open house! What was that like?
Thank you, but I cannot take the credit alone; it really was a team effort. When I arrived at the Museum, the majority of the fall programs had already been set in motion, so I came on board with open arms, ready to help in any way possible. The fall open house was a huge success. There was a great mixture of faculty, staff, students, and members of the public who celebrated the different exhibitions all in an enjoyable, friendly, social environment. The open house demonstrated to me how invested the Museum staff is in creative programs and exhibitions. I immediately sensed that there is a genuine commitment by everyone to build the Museum as an open place for learning and engaging—not only for the college but for the entire community. That attitude is a recipe for success and I am thrilled to be a part of such an enthusiastic team.
How does this relate to your other responsibilities as the Mirken Coordinator of Academic and Public Programs?
What are some projects you’re particularly excited to start work on and how might there be opportunities for students and community members to get involved?
The fall program schedule is packed with exciting events and programs, so I am thrilled to jump right in. I have already begun working with Art + Storytelling, which reminds me of a program I started at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas: Saturday ARTerNoons. This program is targeted towards young audiences and their families, familiarizing them with the Museum’s collection and cultivating an unforgettable museum experience at a young age with hopes of leaving a lasting impression while simultaneously developing patrons within the community.
I am also pleased to be a co-instructor for the college’s Introduction to Museum Education course, under the guidance of Lauren Lessing, Mirken Director of Academic and Public Programs, and Margaret Aiken, Linde Family Foundation Coordinator of School and Teacher Programs. The class currently has seventeen Colby students, who are discovering the theories and practices of museum education along with learning about the history of and the objects in the Colby College Museum of Art collection.
I am looking forward to being involved in the upcoming workshop with the college’s current Oak Human Rights Fellow, Khalid Albaih from Sudan. Prior to accepting my employment with the Museum, I saw Khalid’s work circulating through many social-media platforms, in particular the “Choices for Syrian Children: if you stay, if you leave” cartoon on Facebook. This image, among others, provides insight into global issues through a minimalistic aesthetic. The viewer is captivated, drawn into a world that tugs at your consciousness and emotions. So, once I arrived at the Museum, I learned Khalid was in residence and we’d have an opportunity to work together. We will be hosting a political cartoon workshop that will be open to all Colby College students on November 5th.
Before arriving at Colby, you were the 21st Romare Bearden Graduate Minority Fellow at the Saint Louis Art Museum. Could you tell us a bit about your projects there and how that experience might inform your work here?
The Romare Bearden Fellowship afforded me the opportunity to work with most of the museum’s departments (Curatorial, Development, Design, Education, and Community Outreach), to design and build upon existing educational programs, and the chance to create my own. My interaction with these departments expanded my understanding of the museum structure. While there, I trained SLAM docents and the Docent Council of Metropolitan St. Louis on different tour strategies to engage younger audiences. I also programmed for the Teen Arts Council, which attracted youth from St. Louis City and county; taught fourth and fifth graders through the museum’s multi-interdisciplinary program; Art in the Basic Curriculum, a program that reinforced the classroom curriculum with the museum’s collection; and worked alongside experienced curators to establish programs for all ages. As a fellow, I gave insights into community-wide projects that attracted thousands of residents, particularly the summer film series and SLAM Underground. I was given the unique responsibility for developing specific programs for the collector circle of Friends of African American Art.
One of my most rewarding experiences was to be selected as the first Bearden Fellow to travel to New York through a residency, working with the director and co-director of the Romare Bearden Foundation. During that residency, I conceptualized research materials for future traveling exhibitions and product development for the foundation.
How have you found your first few weeks in Central Maine and what are you most looking forward to exploring?
My few first weeks in Maine have been most gratifying. Being born and raised in The Bahamas, I am used to a community atmosphere and the pleasantries of the locals, and Maine has that same feeling. People tend to address each other when they enter a room, either through eye contact followed by a smile, or vocally with greetings of a hello, good morning, etc.
Mainers are helpful and friendly, so I have been embraced warmly. My first day at work, I got quickly acclimated to Maine’s fine cuisine of potato salad, corn on the cob, and lobster rolls. As for my exploits thus far, I have already visited Portland, Augusta, and the Belfast coast, all of which provide their own unique flavor and quaint experience. Being in Maine, I love the idea of accessibility to neighboring locations like Boston, a two-hour drive away; New York, an hour-and-a-half flight; and Canada, which is a four-hour drive, so you can imagine there will be a lot of exploring on my part to these places. However, I do look forward to experiencing more of Maine’s beautiful coasts, cozy towns, fairs, festivals, farms, hills, mountains, art galleries, museums and even the snow.