Educators ponder art, connect across schools during trip to museum
Published on Monday, March 6, 2023
By: Danny Barrett, email@example.com
Photos By: Melanie Thortis/UMMC Photography
Physically, members of UMMC’s Academy for Excellence in Education had traveled just a few city blocks south of campus Feb. 28 to the Mississippi Museum of Art for their first off-campus group activity.
Mentally, it resembled a world tour – from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, to placid home life in the Mississippi Delta and a stop in New York City in the socially turbulent 1960s.
Merging art appreciation with fostering camaraderie outside of work among health professionals had percolated in the mind of Dr. Steven Stray for several years.
“I had attended a seminar by a visiting professor who showed how he used classical music and images from famous paintings in his medical school lectures,” said Stray, associate professor of microbiology and immunology and president of the academy. “In that case, the focus was how people in the 19th century romanticized the effects of tuberculosis.
“I was very much struck by how he encouraged his students to pay close attention to everything about their patients to glean things about their situation that may not have been communicated directly in conversation. We did this observation skills training with first-year med students a few years ago and I really wanted my colleagues to have the experience.”
Educators who normally spend their time around grade logs or tending to meeting calendars found themselves spellbound by the works of mixed media artist Jamal Cyrus and the imagery of Mississippi Delta-based photographer Maude Schuyler Clay. The special exhibitions were part of the museum’s “Close Looking” guided tours this winter.
Silent at first and taking cues from museum tour guide Grayston Barron, the group pondered the meaning of Cyrus’ multidimensional piece that was intended to represent the passage of pre-colonial era slave ships across the borderless Sargasso Sea within the Atlantic.
“It kind of makes me dizzy,” said Dr. Teresa Perkins, professor of pediatric dentistry, staring at the strident black-and-white lines of its triangular base.
Steel rods that accent another Cyrus sculpture, the much-exhibited Lights from the Garden piece, either represent points of light or something more ominous, tour guide Detrice Roberts said. Cyrus’ work deals with African-American identity across time and political eras.
“It shows how details can change the perception of a piece of artwork,” said Dr. Gary Theilman, professor in the School of Pharmacy at Oxford.
Still-life photos of fruit on a window sill in Clay’s collection appeared to make academy members want to explore the scenes as though they could walk right into them.
“Looking at the fruit and the way the barn looks in the background, it really makes you want to get to that barn,” said Dr. Kristi Moore, chair of radiologic sciences in the School of Health Related Professions.
The field trip was the first event for the academy since its creation in 2022. The academy was established to create a community of educators from across UMMC and is part of the Office of the Associate Chancellor for Academic Affairs.
Besides telling the story of Mississippi through art, the museum also made for a perfect place to inspire creativity among academy members, said Dr. Scott Rodgers, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs.
“Museums often inspire me to be creative and think outside the usual way of thinking,” he said. “On campus, I’m often stuck in that 8-to-5 mindset of what I do every day. Coming here and meeting people outside your usual environment inspires you to think a little bit differently.”
Some of the academy’s 90-person membership include past inductees of the Nelson Order and those who head up major statewide organizations in their field.
“I think it’s a good way for those of us who don’t see each other daily to meet and learn how the other schools work,” said Dr. Carl Mangum, associate professor in the School of Nursing and president of the Mississippi Nurses Association.
A longstanding partnership with UMMC on an array of programs made the museum a natural choice to host the academy, said Elizabeth Callihan, the facility’s director of education.
“We jumped at the chance to learn more about the collective work you’re doing,” Callihan told academy members.
The feeling went both ways, as the art seemed to take the educators to another place and time.
“It's a real hidden gem of life in Jackson, and the staff are so talented and creative,” Stray said. “I'm hoping that introducing faculty who may not know much about it will stimulate future collaborations between MMA and UMMC as two important institutions in the intellectual and cultural life of the city and state.”