Vested in art, education, and community
Washington, D.C., native María Aschenbrener’21 has been an artist for much of her life, focusing on ceramics and fabric art during her time at Beloit. Just a few months after completing her 9th semester, she landed a dream job at the Denver Art Museum. Her passions for art and community grew at Beloit and have made the Denver art scene feel like home.
What have you been up to since your 9th semester ended in December?
I work part-time at the Denver Art Museum as a special projects assistant with adult access programs. I am vested in pursuing a career in art and art education in the museum field. My position is grant-funded — it ends in September — and I’m filling in for someone who has been the assistant for the past two and a half years. It’s my hope that in September I’ll be offered another position here. I’ve been applying for positions here at the museum as well as other museums in the Denver area. I’d like to stay here for the foreseeable future because I really like the town and the area and the art community. I love being in the art world.
I spent four and a half years learning about art and education at Beloit, and then I literally got a job in it two months after Beloit! There were only four art majors [who graduated with me], and that big question of ‘what are you going to do with your art degree?’ really settles on you. So I’m very happy that I have been able to use that knowledge in the field less than six months after I left. It’s enriching.
How did you decide to combine your passions for art and education?
I was interested in majoring in art since I got to Beloit, but I didn’t declare until the second semester of my sophomore year. I was always interested in majoring in education too, but I wasn’t interested in being a teacher — I was interested in policy-making and having a background in education. I taught most summers during college as an art teacher, and I really did not like it. I’d always looked at art through an education lens, rather than education through an art lens.
Museums are not something that I thought I would go into, actually. I never took a museum studies class. Museums had always felt stuffy and academic to me, an idea that my art thesis was based on. But learning more about how museums work and meeting the people who work in them really helped me understand that I can do some fun, impactful work. I’m very into the programming that museums have to offer their community members. I decided to go the museum route because it combined my love for art, working with people and my desire to explore more places.
What have your experiences at the Denver Art Museum been like so far?
I find that I love it very much. It is much less strict and hierarchical than working at a school, and there’s more freedom and excitement about the classes and what our programs look like. Half of my hours are programming — working with the community itself or the sensory garden and the volunteers — and then the other half is administrative — making timelines and budgeting and planning and marketing. I get a good mix, which is very nice.
What are some projects you’re working on?
Right now, I’m working on a Pride exhibitionwith an LGBT center in downtown Denver. We work with about 10 older adults ranging from age 50 to 92. I was raised by my grandparents and I hang out with older adults all the time, so this aspect of the job really appealed to me and gave me an advantage. After the Pride exhibition [opens] next month, we are putting on a conference for our colleagues from other institutions who would benefit from learning about what we have discovered from the last four years.
I also work with the [museum’s] sensory garden. I work with volunteers to maintain the garden, gather research, and evaluate visitor patterns. We also are working with the creative-in-residence to set up guided interactions with the museum. We just set up “sound healing Sundays” in the garden with someone who specializes in sound healing.
I’m always adapting programs that the rest of my team has developed and executed for the past four years to what works best for our patrons. We have learned about what kinds of creative well-being classes and activities help older adults the most. And now we are in full swing of executing and adapting their research and planning. While some of these classes will now continue past the grant funding, we will soon end our data collection and wrap up the research and then present about it in a productive way, teaching what we have learned, in a conference in September.
Why were you attracted to Denver?
I looked at a bunch of cities. The Denver art scene is poppin’ — they’ve got a younger community here, so they’ve got a lot of people out making art, and it’s all kinds of art: painting, ceramics, music. Almost everybody at the art museum has some sort of art world connection. I’ve been networking my butt off! I’ve also just been exploring the city; I don’t have a car, so I walk or bike everywhere, getting to know the lay of the land. I haven’t spent as much time creating as I usually do, but that comes with a new job. I was interested in renting ceramic space in their studio, but it’s way out of my budget. It was super fun to see how a ceramics studio space works in a city like this, and how people use it, and now I have a connection.
I also enjoy living with Caleb Nghe’20; it’s nice to have a little Beloit in Denver. I’ve also had a lot of Beloit people come through and visit and a lot of them live out west. While there might not be a direct Beloit community here except me and Caleb, a lot of people do travel through here, which has been fun.
Who are the people you met at Beloit who helped you along the way?
I would definitely say that art professor George Williams and education and youth studies professor Jingjing Lou really helped me prepare. Beloit has been an array of things. I can’t pinpoint, “oh, it was this painting class that I took that helped me with this.” The skills that I was taught at Beloit are what helped me — to balance multiple things, to be creative and brainstorm from multiple angles that some people don’t have. A lot of people here have MFAs and they went to fancy art schools to get their masters. I didn’t do that. I went to a liberal arts school. I took geology and medieval literature. I took weird classes that prepared me for this.
At Beloit, I had my art major and my education major. Here, I’m seeing them actually mix. I got things from my art major that help me in the administration education work I do and education [knowledge] that helped me with my art career and talking to people. It’s definitely the interdisciplinary love that Beloit has that I miss the most.