Art brought to light: The UK Art Museum


Abbey Cutrer

Art hangs on the walls on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, in the Singletary Art Museum at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Abbey Cutrer | Staff

Nate Lucas, Reporter

Inside of the UK Art Museum at the Singletary Center for the Arts, visitors might notice the soft sounds of the orchestra.

As soon as visitors enter, they’re met by two student workers of tranquil temperaments. The museum is free for all to explore, but guests are asked to sign in to monitor the attendance of visitors. 

Unbeknownst to guests, those in charge of bringing the exhibits to life are not in the spotlight.

Today, Janie Welker is wearing a light blue bandana, a light blue collared shirt and light blue jeans. She looks on with light blue eyes. 

It’s ironic, because as the UK Art Museum’s curator, Welker illuminates the art of her choosing from a storage of over 5,000 pieces.

Welker describes herself as a storyteller by heart. She first worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for 12 years. At the Express Times in Eastern Pennsylvania, she created the arts beat.

“That was about an hour and a quarter from New York, and I was going in and covering mega exhibitions at places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney all in New York,” Welker said. 

Welker said she used her vacation days to take up the days of the week where she could take courses on contemporary art at the New School. 

In the world of art, there is a noticeable hardship to job hunting. It was no different for Welker trying to find a full time gig. 

Welker worked part time at The International Center for Photography and The Brooklyn’s Children museum until she was brought onto the staff at Heckscher Museum of Art on Long Island. 

“I think my first job was actually something like collections assistant, and then I became the assistant curator, and then I became the photography curator there — photography was always one of my passions,” Welker said.

Welker was there for eight years until she came to UK in 2005. She will have a tenure of 18 and a half years when she retires. 

Welker’s continued interest in photography, with which she talked about with great enthusiasm, is reflected in one of the museum’s current exhibits.

The works of photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard are featured in the exhibit “Georgetown Street” on display at the museum now. 

“He’s an extraordinary example (of a photographer), because he’s internationally known,” Welker said.

Meatyard did the majority of his work in Lexington.

Before Meatyard, there was a historic precedent of documentarian photography of candid subjects. Meatyard made specific decisions with his subjects to wear masks and pose, which set him apart from others. 

Welker said that traditionally in art history, one would show work by a specific artist or time period like the Meatyard exhibit. 

Art hangs on the walls on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, in the Singletary Art Museum at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Abbey Cutrer | Staff

However, that’s not the case for Welker and the museum. 

“We tend to overall do more kind of thematic shows, and so I did one show called ‘Illumination,’ and so it included painting such that showed really kind of nice illuminated skies, but it also included a Tiffany lamp,” she said. 

The goal of shows like these is for viewers to create their own ideas of what art means and that something in their minds will “just kind of spark,” Welker said.

Similarly, the UK Art Museum’s educational coordinator, Dan Solberg, aspires to shed light on the museum’s collection. 

As part of his job, Solberg runs formal education programming.

“I’m sort of the face of it, and I developed tour programs, education materials that might correspond with different exhibitions, handouts, gallery guides, that kind of thing,” Solberg said. 

The most important part of Solberg’s job is making sure that the art remains approachable and accessible. He said that it’s important to “avoid art-world jargon” and not alienate a visitor.

Before he was at UK, Solberg worked at the Smithsonian Institutions, where he developed programs similar to the ones he uses in the UK Art Museum today. 

Solberg is also a part time instructor at UK. 

“My introduction to working in education honestly came from working in museums. So I carried a lot of that stuff into my classroom teaching,” Solberg said. 

Looking at his calendar, Solberg pegs the tours he conducts at about four per week during a semester. The most important tour he said he directs is the “first impressions tour” for new visitors of the museum.

Solberg said he usually picks artwork that can be easily interpreted instead of ones that would involve deep interpretation exercises. He said it’s important for the visitors to have a positive experience that reinforces the museum as an interesting place. 

Art hangs on the walls on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, in the Singletary Art Museum at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Abbey Cutrer | Staff

Solberg has plenty of ideas for the future of the museum, too.

He said he hopes that students can work in greater capacity with the museum, especially those in curatorial studies and art history.

“But, long story short, kind of reinvigorating a docent program and how they get tied into student population really directly so we could have a situation where classes are coming to the museum and taking a peer led, you know, tour of the museum, I think could be a really nice thing,” Solberg said. 

Another idea included building online galleries out of the UK Art Museum’s online collection. Solberg said that the collection is currently internal between staff.

“I would like to find ways to make that collection more, if not publicly accessible at least to the student population, campus population, accessible for searches of research and that kind of thing,” Solberg said.

After his interview Solberg clarified that these comments were just aspirations of his and were in no way future plans of the UK Art Museum. 

The UK Art Museum is open Tuesdays-Fridays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays noon to 5 p.m. and closed on Mondays and Sundays.