Amidst hours of late night studying at the library Thursday evening, I ventured from my quarantined corner of the UGLi in search of a break. My eyes tired, brain exhausted; I needed a distraction from falling asleep and a quick pick-me-up, especially considering I thoughtlessly gave up coffee for Lent. I completely forgot to take final exams into account before starting my eight-week deprival.
My lids felt heavier with each turn of an each index card. The last names melted into first names and dates began to jumble while sifting through eighty-five images. Each photograph held three pieces of information: artist, title, and date. Someone told me Art History courses required a lot of memorization and studying proved “a lot” to be more of an understatement. Ready to retire from the tedious amounts memorizing “The History of Photography,” I promised my friends I’d stop by The University of Michigan Museum of Art After Hours party. At the time, paying a visit to the UMMA seemed like the least likely place to find an art history escape. Falling deeper into a haze, I figured the promised cake would give me enough of a sugar rush to walk back to the comfort of my dorm and act as an appropriate substitute for the lack of caffeine on a blustery night.
To my surprise, the event was more of a soiree, mixing culture with the perfect amount of excitement. I was careful not to let myself be carried away with fun, but whatever ounce of focus I left the library with flew out the window. Guests were greeted to the beat of Michigan Electronic Dance Association (MEDMA) and welcomed with a free, student-designed tee. Luckily, I snagged one of the last shirts.
It was 8:57 PM. Technically, the party hadn’t begun, but looking around anyone would agree that The UMMA had taken on a new light, one full of vibrant energy. The main gallery transformed into a dance floor, fluorescent lights illuminating the white walls and priceless paintings. I marched to the sound of the synthesizer, over to the desserts table to divulge in some sweets. There was something to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth: chocolate, vanilla, and-
“Is that carrot cake?” a figure, hovering over the plates, asked.
“The UMMA is keeping it classy!” she added as she selected the perfect slice with her eyes. Chilled Granny Smith apples and baby bananas lined the black linen tables, perfect for a healthier late night snack.
Students were free to roam the galleries and to explore an unknown realm of treasures, both ancient and modern. I followed the sign that read “Photo-Booth,” where my friends and I uncovered an assortment of good-humored costumes. Guests had their pick of white and black suspenders, nerd glasses, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle mask, and other unusual props to chose from. After striking a pose, my friends and I waited for our masterfully constructed snapshot to be project in the main gallery.
Afterwards, I moved to the luminary tables where guests selected one of three prompts to answer. “What illuminates you?” The white paper bag asked. I responded with “The flash of my camera” and drew a sketchy image of my Pentax.
“What color light would you like yours to be?” one of the student volunteers politely asked.
“Blue is nice!” I said.
Later, while walking the third floor of the museum, we stopped to see our lanterns being placed outside in an intricate pattern of multicolor design and light, a reoccurring theme throughout the celebration. The newfound energy and patrons breathed life into the museum, illuminating much of its forgotten corridors.
The evening was successful turn out, with students buzzing the museum. For freshman Katie Merenius, it was her first UMMA discovery.
“Believe it or not, but I have class here and I’ve never once walked the museum,” she said.
That was the hope of the UMMA Student Programming and Advisory Board (SPAB), the party planners behind the event. SPAB is comprised of student board members, dedicated to supporting the UMMA and their mission of commitment to students and engagement with the arts.
It was close to ten o’clock, during my final jaunt around the artwork. Rapidly loosing track of time, I lost myself in the modern art gallery, where a peculiar work caught my eye. “Man Ray,” the plaque read. Man Ray is one of the modernist photographers covered on the exam, I thought excitedly. This instant of coincidence, pure cosmic occurrence, connected me to my studies in an unfamiliar way. Sadly after and hour free from work, it was time for me to say goodbye to the festivities and hit the books. I had a mountain of note cards waiting for me, but with a new source of inspiration and motivation, I walked spritely back to the dorms, changed into my new tee, and started to study.