Courtesy of Eve Dartley.

“I loved learning this rich history while also being trusted to do research, be creative, have control and autonomy over what I was doing, and have that be respected.”—Eve Dartley, BGC Lab for Teen Thinkers alumna

Bard Graduate Center (BGC) visitor services associate Bree Klauser has had the opportunity to get to know some alumni of BGC’s Lab for Teen Thinkers through her work in the Gallery. Recently she interviewed another graduate of the Lab, Eve Dartley, to learn more about its impact.

Bree Klauser
: Hi Eve! It’s so nice to meet you. Tell me about yourself.

Eve Dartley
: I am currently studying at Bennington College in Vermont. I’m in my first year, about to start my second semester. The amazing thing about Bennington is that you can actually invent your own major! I am studying a mixture of literature, cinema studies, and linguistics/philosophy.

: Where did you grow up?

: I grew up in New York, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn—at the very bottom of the R train.
I went to high school at Bard Queens which is Bard’s early college campus in Long Island City, so my commute was egregious. I took the train there every single day. From pretty early on, I knew that I liked literature, reading, and writing, so choosing a liberal arts high school made sense for me.

: What attracted you to BGC’s Lab for Teen Thinkers?

: During COVID, which is when I first heard about it, I remember getting a bunch of emails about opportunities for virtual things that you could do over the summer. With lockdown, we were all going a bit crazy wanting something to do. I had heard of BGC, but I didn’t even know there was a museum or a gallery aspect. I just thought it was a grad school. Looking at the history of New York, and particularly Seneca Village, with its often-ignored history in Central Park, appealed to me.

I think subconsciously I wanted some way to connect with the city, because I was no longer able to engage with it every single day, like I was pre-pandemic. The subject matter really hit home as well as the opportunity to do research and engage intellectually.

It was so wonderful to study Seneca Village (the predominantly African American community that New York City displaced in 1857 during the construction of Central Park) and to really dive into who those people were. I think that a lot of times we talk about historical injustices very broadly and don’t give the actual people that were involved enough attention. The entire focus of the program was looking at the people who lived there and what their houses were and what their objects were. For me, that was a way to connect with that history more deeply than maybe just reading about Seneca Village. It made it much more tangible, and I think that that’s really how you can attempt to do justice to these people who were taken from their homes to build what we now know is the biggest tourist attraction in the city!

: What was your perception of museums and galleries before joining the program, and did that change afterwards?

: Absolutely. I was used to the more public-facing side of museums, and I had never really considered what a smaller academic institution might be able to do. That kind of setting gives lots of freedom to people to present whatever it is that they find crucial at the moment. I think Seneca Village is crucial and has been crucial for a very long time. The fact that we were able to study it (since it wasn’t taught in school), that we got to study with scholars that worked on the archaeological dig of the Seneca Village site in Central Park and Tova Kadish (an archaeology doctoral student at BGC) was very refreshing. I perceived museums to as very money-driven institutions, and I didn’t think something like Seneca Village could be explored there.

: What was the most exciting part of the Lab for Teen Thinkers?

: I think it can be very easy to participate in programs like this and feel like you’re either not taken seriously enough or expected to know everything all at once, and there seems to be very little in-between. I really loved being able to ingest information and learn this rich history while also being trusted to do research, be creative, have control and autonomy over what I was doing, and have that be respected. It was a really wonderful balance and was by far my favorite part of engaging with everybody involved in the project.

: It sounds like you made some strong connections to the people running the Lab for Teen Thinkers. Are you still in touch with them?

: For sure! Carla (Carla Repice, senior manager of interpretation, education, and engagement) was the person that I reached out to when I wanted to do an internship at Bard Graduate Center. She and I catch up every now and again. I’ve also been in touch with Nadia (Nadia Rivers, coordinator of public humanities, education, and engagement) and I’ve tried to see what Tova is up to.

: That’s fantastic. How has participating in the Lab impacted your current academic experiences?

ED: It has had a massive impact. I’d always been interested in philosophy, and it’s always been something that, especially in the written form has interested me, but very rarely have I been given the opportunity to put philosophy into practice outside of Bard Graduate Center. I don’t even think they realized they were doing this, but they were cultivating an environment in which we were looking at objects and thinking about them in their experience with human life. That’s philosophy of phenomenology.

BK: Can you say more about that?

: I only recently learned that phenomenology is the philosophy of the physical world and of human relationships to the physical world. So, if you look at a cup of coffee, you can think about it in the scientific sense where you’re asking what kind of ceramic was used, what was used to make the grounds, etc. You can also think about it emotionally. For instance, the smell reminds me of my mother and these experiences that I had when I was five years old. Phenomenology calls for focusing wholly on the object and removing the observer. It’s attempting to look at the relationship between the person and their cup of coffee. I recently devoured a book all about that concept and realized that that’s what BGC was letting me do at the age of sixteen.

BK: Awesome!

ED: We were humanizing the Seneca Village story, and we were also humanizing the objects that remain from that community. How were they used, how were they owned, and what survives from that period of history through this object? If this is the last thing that we have to tell us about this part of the world, what can we learn from it? Phenomenology is a pretty crucial part of what I’m studying at Bennington.

BK: That’s great! I know that you are interested in queer communities and the intersection between those communities and art. As a queer-identifying person myself, I was really excited to meet you and ask, from your perspective, how do you think that museums can be more inclusive and increase access to those in marginalized communities? Did your experience with the Lab for Teen Thinkers encourage you to think about access and inclusivity more?

ED: It absolutely did. I think that the subject matter that we were studying helped to contribute to that. It was the humanizing of an overlooked history, and I think that that theme of stories and narratives that are ignored can expand into a million different directions. Anybody who is interested can always find something that has been ignored up to this point, especially with marginalized or minoritized communities. I think that specifically with museums,

a lot of times the people who are in charge of museum work often fit a very specific description of a straight white man. Unfortunately, when those specific kinds of people have the power to tell the stories that they find interesting—even if it’s not malicious—is not necessarily representative of the entire world at all.

Academia often considers studying Western culture as the pinnacle and other topics are treated as extracurriculars. In the past, that turned me off from museum work, but seeing that Bard Graduate Center was studying something that people might’ve ignored otherwise and was open to hearing young people talk about what they wanted to see in museums—even outside the project—was a game changer.

BK: If you could design an exhibition, what would you want to do?

ED: So many different things! The first thing that comes to mind, though, is that I am on the autism spectrum, and I’ve always been interested in taking a more creative approach to autism in women considering how it was ignored—especially in young girls. That also gets into issues of gender and mental illness. The way that people of my generation are expanding their understanding of gender affects everything in our lives. I’ve always been interested in the idea of an exhibition about the world through an autistic person’s eyes using the history of autism and femininity. What do those concepts mean now that we are moving beyond the gender binary.

BK: You did not want to do an exhibition about trains? (laughs) In the media, there is often the perception that autism is about numbers and trains…

ED: (laughs) No, exactly. Numbers, trains, and occasionally stamps. I always think to myself, I collect books and I’m interested in literature and I can make an intellectual contribution despite this (mimes air quotes) disorder that tends to be seen as something very obsessive. I think that I can use that to my advantage in ways that people don’t necessarily consider, but that’s just one of many ideas that I have.

BK: Given what we’ve just spoken about, how could museums increase access?

ED: I think there is so much conversation about making things more accessible, and I agree with that and think it’s important, but I also think that people could look at a person’s diagnosis, look at different labels and then just ask “what do these people need?” based on the Wikipedia page about autism disorder.

BK: Yeah! Although I’m legally blind, I still have a lot of usable sight so a Braille label is not going to help me. Similarly, in a lot of progressive spaces, people have started to practice self-description, and to me, some of that feels like pandering. I don’t need to know that you are wearing a brown shirt—that is not heightening my experience. So I think it is important to think about what is essential and how can we make experiences inclusive without assuming anything or going overboard.

ED: Exactly. I don’t have all the answers. I am autistic but I represent a very specific section of the autism spectrum. I have never had trouble with speech, whereas some people do. I’ve had trouble with social interactions, while some people don’t. It is such a large spectrum, and I think that is true of a lot of disabilities. I don’t have all the answers in terms of what can people do specifically for autism, but I think the way to start is by talking to people. Don’t just look at what a neuro-typical person might have written about something and the standard struggles that people deal with and then assume that everything is one-to-one. Talking to people and humanizing that experience is the first step one to understanding what you can do. I think it can be a delicate balance for people who are just now being faced with the task of making things accessible; it’s fairly new for a lot of people in academic fields. I don’t think they’ve ever been asked to do that before. Take your time with it, don’t rush to do something because it’ll make you and your institution look good, because then you might not actually help the people you’re trying to help.

BK: We can tell when it’s performative.

ED: Yes! And it so often is!

BK: What would you say to anyone who was interested in applying to the Lab for Teen Thinkers program

ED: I would say do it! It is a very flexible program in the sense that no matter what you are bringing to it and no matter what you want to take away from it, you can do it in that program. Science students can consider the archeological perspective and ask about the conservation status of objects, or why did rust develop in this particular area, or where was it found in the ground? Literature students like me can look at object interpretation and the stories people from the past have to share through their writings. Visual artists could look at how objects are displayed in the case and how you can tell the a through curatorial design.

BK: So, is there anything else you would like to add?

ED: In terms of professional life, every year Bennington gives us a field work term from January to February to find an internship or a job or a program to get some practical experience. For me, as someone who’s not quite sure what I want to do with my philosophy and literature interests, I figured BGC would be a good place to start looking, so I emailed Carla and Nadia and I asked if there was anything that I could do to assist them. They did a wonderful job of pairing me with this amazing curator at BGC, Laura Microulis, who is working on a bunch of different projects at the moment. She and I have developed a close relationship—even more so than I thought we would—discussing exhibition making and the job of a curator.

I’ve been going into the building twice a week to assist her with anything she needs as well as working on my own little project of taking an object and seeing what kind of an exhibition and interpretation it could inspire. I’m working on a pair of gloves from Bard Graduate Center’s Study Collection. They are black and white leather gloves from the 1960s, and I am using them to make a hypothetical mini-exhibition around femininity in 1960s Paris. I am drawing on philosophy, literature, fashion, and history to look at the political landscape of womanhood in post-war Paris. That’s not something that you would ever think would come from a pair of gloves, but it did. I’m very interested in building on that and taking it all with me into my next semester at Bennington. I think it will contribute to my budding understanding of material culture, so I’m really excited for how all of this will impact the next few months for my personal life.

BK: Thank you so much for this. I just want to end by wishing you all the best moving forward!

ED: Thank you!

Special thanks to BGC PhD student Jeremy Reeves for his assistance with this interview.