2020 Hands-On Curatorial Program

by | Jun 19, 2020 | Hands-On Curatorial Program

(I’m Nostalgic for) Memories I’ve Never Lived Before


The Hands-On Curatorial Program provides an opportunity for high school students to work hands-on with the Coe collection of over 2,300 works of Indigenous art from around the world. Through museum visits and weekly sessions, the curators learn how to create their own exhibition from the Coe collection. They select objects, do research, write wall and catalog text, write press releases, design exhibition layout and graphics, and interact with our visitors…all skills which prepare them to succeed in any endeavor, from creating art to creating a business.

This year the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting closures threw our student curators a curveball. Normally, by May, these curators would have completed and built out their exhibition installation—resulting in a wonderful public opening. In an amazing act of resiliency and creativity, this group of curators has continued to meet weekly, working to adapt their exhibition to these new circumstances.

Before the disruptions that have swept across the globe, our curators had landed on the incredibly prescient theme of “nostalgia”. Their title (I’m Nostalgic For) Memories I’ve Never Lived Before means even more now than it did when they came up with it in December. Originally, they planned an immersive space of nostalgia to be built within the Coe and drawn upon the Coe collection, their own collections, and include their own self-created artworks to illustrate their thinking.

From their logo (a hand-drawn “polaroid” of a cardboard fort in the shape of a typical New Mexican home) to their group photos (real polaroids), to the works they selected from the Coe collection, every aspect of their exhibition focuses on how objects and places trigger in us all a sense of nostalgia. Even the polaroid imagery itself, as an icon of popular culture from decades past that, has gone through a recent resurgence led largely by younger consumers, is part of that shared nostalgia. The familiar white frame and low-res image quality evoke the past even when the photos document today. The logo, with the drawing of a polaroid of a home out of cardboard, precisely expresses those layers of meaning held in scenes and objects that reflect childhood in general. These images, things, spaces, and feelings might not necessarily be from the curator’s actual lived experiences, but their familiarity through collective memory crosses time and culture.

This vision— no longer in our physical space— is coming to fruition in the form of a website (built entirely by our young curators) that serves as their digital version of their interactive exhibition.

The curators explain, Our message is the same now as it would’ve been if we were still given an opportunity to make an in-person display, perhaps strengthened now that we’ve all had ample time to remember what makes up each of us, what we love most in life, and how things were different.

For us, the exhibition concept of nostalgia seemed to find us. Together, over many meetings and as we shared experiences and found ourselves discussing the works of art, we deepened our familiarity with one another. Through writing and working to create this exhibition together—we gave ourselves an open space to discuss ‘nostalgia’ and what it means to us. 

Nostalgia is the common ground; it is what binds us together through the familiar touch of our memories; it is this same connection that will lead us to the creation of a physical space to immerse our viewers into facing the same concept we strive to recreate.

By bringing together pieces from the Coe’s collection and our own original artworks, we are creating an encompassing living space that allows you, the viewer, to step into our nostalgia. This forces us to process nostalgia (both good and bad) and which all of us deal with in our day-to-day lives.


This image is of the 2020 Hands-On curators at Youthworks in February with artist David Sloan. He is instructing them how to screen their self-made logo onto the Hands-On Curatorial Program t-shirts. These shirts were sold to help offset some of the costs for the program.



See the article in the Albuquerque Journal, September 27, 2020 about this exhibition.



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