Standing around, beverage-filled cup in hand, talking about art and life seems a culturally inevitable ritual for students -- but do they do it in museums?
At Pomona College’s Museum of Art, increasingly, they do. A new program, “Art After Hours,”  lets student groups use the space for activities that may or may not have anything to do with the collections, seeking to get more students through the doors.
Jessica Wimbley, the museum’s program and outreach manager, curates the evenings, working with student groups, the campus student radio station, faculty, and artists showing work at the museum, turning Thursday nights into museum nights. Some events feature film screenings paired with poetry readings. Others are concerts mixed with lectures.
"The purpose was to expand access to the museum as a dynamic aspect of campus," said Wimbley. She started the program in a grassroots style, talking to students about what they wanted to have more of on campus. Then she worked with the student radio station to host a few music events during the 2009-10 school year.
Wimbley says the Pomona College Museum of Art logged over 2,500 student visits (total, not unique) during the fall semester for “Art After Hours” nights. Thus far this academic year, the museum has logged about 4,000 visits during regular hours, meaning that "Art After Hours" has accounted for 40 percent of all museum-goers. Wimbley says Pomona considers the program so successful that the administration is considering redesigning the landscape to the museum’s courtyard, which sometimes serves as the event space.
Amaru Tejeda, a Pomona sophomore, said he has benefited from the change in museum priorities. He said during his freshman year he only went to the museum twice. "Frankly, it felt a little more for the outside community than for the general student body sometimes," he said. Since "Art After Hours" opened, he goes nearly every week. "Extended hours are a great idea for students who are too busy during the school week," he said.
Wimbley says the program’s success is a result of rethinking the museum’s relationship to faculty and the student body. “It is a shift in model in thinking of museum as brick-and-mortar, authoritative establishment that you come to to passively receive information to being a place that activates creativity,” she says. “The students have ownership in it because they’re actively engaged, they’re creating some of the content, and contributing to research and academic standing. Faculty have ownership of the space, but you want to make sure students have some as well.”