Start to finish: Honors College students reflect on museum exhibit work and where it's leading them next

If I go into anything museum related, I'll have no problem saying 'I've done X, Y and Z.'

Kathleen McLain
There are lots of steps to take when it comes to creating a museum exhibit – let alone two museum exhibits – just ask journalism sophomore Marisa Hamel and anthropology senior Kathleen McLain.

Both members of the Honors College, Hamel and McLain were the workers behind French photographer Gilles Perrin and MSU journalism professor Howard Bossen’s “Detroit Resurgent” and “An Extraordinary Document of Our World,” on display at the MSU Museum.

The black-and-white exhibitions capture dozens of faces of everyday people from Detroit and all around the globe, but they wouldn’t have gotten to their perch without the help of Hamel and McLain.

“We’ve really been able to go see it from start to finish,” says Hamel. “My favorite part about it was being able to see an audio file of an interview, just someone’s voice… about Detroit and where they think it’s going, and for us to take that interview and picture and transform it into an exhibition and eventually a book.”

Perrin took the photographs and his wife, Nicole Ewenczyk, collected the interviews. Then it was up to McLain and Hamel to take something raw and turn it into something finished.

The leg work took almost a year, with McLain and Hamel dividing 64 interviews, transcribing them all and organizing a database with all the other relevant information needed for the exhibits.

“A project like this just has a ton of details,” Bossen says as he stands in the museum. “(Hamel and McLain) have been heavily involved.”

In addition to the interview transcriptions, the students worked with Bossen to pare down thousands of photographs into just dozens for the exhibit. Then it was up to them to write the captions, get the photographs printed in France, framed and transported to Michigan.

As the exhibition’s debut neared, McLain even stepped up to paint some of the walls at the museum. She also created a photo card matching game for people to use during their visits.

“I don’t do just one thing. There are so many things that go into this project,” McLain says. “Going from…Xerox copies of all these pictures tacked up on a thumb board to… hanging like this – it really was symbolic of the entire project.”

Both Hamel and McLain say the experience will benefit them when they hit the job market.

“If I go into anything museum related, I’ll have no problem saying ‘I’ve done X, Y and Z’,” McLain says.

Exposure to cross-disciplinary work should also help her have a leg up in anthropology, she adds.

“It’s a different aspect of journalism than you learn in the classroom,” Hamel says. “I’m really interested in writing, so watching a book come together was an enlightening experience.”

MSU Press will publish “Detroit Resurgent”.

McLain and Hamel are now working on a steel industry and photography project with Bossen, which includes culling through the database of photographs and categorizing them, writing loan letters, and working directly with the two museums in Belgium and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where the project will debut. They are also doing some essay writing for a related book.