Ambassador of Art

Miranda: Student Board

Javi & other members of ICA”s Student Board. Photo: J. Katz

post by Rachel Pastan

Last Wednesday afternoon, as on many afternoons over the last two years, Penn student Javi Battle was in ICA’s conference room for a meeting of the Student Advisory Board. It would be his last. Javi is graduating this winter and moving to New York to start an executive training program at Lord and Taylor. He’s crossing that potent, invisible threshold from school into the world.

ICA has a complex relationship with Penn. We are part of it, we sit in the midst of it, its students work in our offices and tour our galleries and surge past us down the sidewalk on their way to Urban Outfitters across the street. Each year we collaborate with the School of Arts and Sciences to co-teach a class for undergraduates, and some of our programs, like last fall’s Free For All, are specifically geared toward Penn students. At the same time, the museum raises most of its own money and has independent relationships with the art world. Still, education is at the heart of much of what we do, and having students advise us, offering us their perspective and their energy, helps. In return we trust that being part of ICA will be a memorable and influential part of our student board members’ education. Listening to Javi’s enthusiasm makes me optimistic that it is.

Javi is passionate about art and about ICA. Growing up in Arizona, he played a lot of soccer, but his mother took him to art museums too. Coming to Penn to study at The Wharton School of Business, he quickly found his way to the museum, coming to shows and attending programs. One day ICA Director Claudia Gould came up to him after he’d asked an interesting question at a lecture. She’d seen him around the museum a lot and wondered if he wanted to join the student board. He did.

One important role the board plays is liaison to fellow students, letting them know what’s going on at the museum and motivating them to come by. Last year, at their request, student board members were trained as docents and gave tours. “The first one was tough,” Javi says. “But after two or three I got the hang of it.”

I asked him what he likes about ICA. There were a lot of things on the list:

“I love that I can go there and be by myself and look at art. I love seeing things I’ve never seen before. ICA has really opened my eyes to video art, especially with the Dance with Camera show. I also had the honor of co-hosting along with Kaegan Sparks (Penn ’10/ICA Student Advisory Board) a screening and discussion with the video artist Ryan Trecartin that was truly amazing. I love to see artists sticking to their guns, doing what they want to do.”

What Javi himself wants to do is and isn’t clear. He’s excited about his upcoming work at Lord and Taylor, where he interned in the buying department last summer, but he has ambitions beyond retail management. We talked about ICA’s 2009 Tim Rollins and K.O.S. exhibition—“so poignant, so introspective,” Javi said, adding that he liked it partly for the way it brought together art, education, and activism. Javi, who volunteers teaching saxophone at the Penn Alexander School feels that art and social engagement are as much in his future as business is. “I think there’s a way to bring them together,” he said.

I love the art students involved at ICA, and I love the art history majors. But engaging students in other fields—medicine, engineering, business—has a particular delectation. They are true ambassadors, sailing away on ships to other places, bringing the good news of art.