University of Illinois at Chicago

This is the review for the MA Museum and Exhibition Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. If you didn’t know already, here are some facts about the university and the program:

  • The program does not require the GRE
  • The program requires students to complete a thesis or capstone project
  • The program partners with the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum and Gallery 400
  • UIC is among the nation’s top five most diverse campuses

These facts were found here and here.

The University of Illinois at Chicago is a public research university in Chicago, Illinois.

So far, I have received four responses about this program. All of the respondents graduated less than a year ago up to five years ago.

The advantages of the program are:

  • Director active in social justice for museums and society
  • Program is social justice based; classes deeply reflect that foundation
  • Incredibly helpful about finding funding
  • Supportive professionally and personally
  • Class times usually in the later evening but not too late
  • Diverse group of students from all walks of life
  • Networking
  • Practical, hands-on experience
  • Strong theoretical component
  • Proximity to cultural programming, museums, and galleries in Chicago that classes use to their advantage
  • Small cohort / class-size (one year had 17 students)
  • The program is embedded in the larger university structure, so students may take classes in other departments. One graduate spent the bulk of their time in the Disabilities Studies Department.

The disadvantages respondents noted are:

  • Tuition differential of $6,000 annually. We had one of the highest tuition differentials of the entire campus.
  • Few required classes
  • More practical, hands-on experience
  • Additional coursework and workshops related to how to get a job
  • Workshops for practical tools and skills
  • Less art focus and more history and natural history, particularly a cooperative effort with other departments such as anthropology, archaeology, history, etc.

The overall score of the program as it was when the respondents attended is 9.00/10.00

The overall score of the program as it is now is 8.67/10.00

The change in score is due to a hands-on course that is no longer offered.

Three of the four respondents do live near the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Two respondents work at an art museum, one at a mobile app start-up, and one is a freelancer.

Two graduates have responsibilities that include curatorial duties and exhibitions. One person’s work includes education, one includes administration, and one includes content development and design.

Some examples of current job titles are:

  • Chief Curatorial Officer
  • Founder of Museum Accessibility Toolkit

Some dream jobs are:

  • Director of Public Programs
  • Curator
  • CEO

My Summary:

As often is the case, I would prefer more responses before passing judgment on this program. However, do want to point out a couple of things about the Museum and Exhibition program at UIC.

The social justice aspect seems to be unique to this program. The partner institutions sound like great resources to have and seem to be integrated into the program since one member from each museum is listed on the faculty page.

Although one respondent mentions that cooperation with different departments is lacking, students have to take 20 credits of electives which sounds like can be in any department. So if a student wanted to focus more on history or natural history, it would be possible. I contacted the director, Dr. Therese Quinn and she provided a plethora of information. Scroll down to her comment to read her response to this post. Here are the links to the two syllabi: the first is for a Public Engagement in Museums class and the second is for a class titled, “Museum Genres, Practices and Institution.”



On the downside, it looks like the five required museum exhibition courses that are required are the only museum exhibition classes offered. This may mean many graduates gain the majority of their museum experience through internships. Do you agree? Let me know by commenting below, contacting me, or filling out the survey. If you would like to check out the program for yourself, here is the website. In addition, check out their most recent program handbook which includes program and course descriptions.

One thought on “University of Illinois at Chicago”

  1. This is the response I emailed Sarah Taubner on Feb. 19, 2017:

    Hi! This is such a great project. I’m so glad you received a few responses from our graduates. I’ve shared the link with our networks several times. I’ll do that again to encourage more responses now that there is a report posted. I’m also ccing the Program Coordinator, Anthony Stepter, so he can add his perspective.

    First, as a global comment, I think this gets at the program fairly well. I’ll offer some more information here, though, to clarify and respond to your questions.

    The MUSE program is interdisciplinary and focused on social justice. We aim to accept 15 students each year (it varies a bit year to year depending on how many applicants accept out offers). Students take 5 required, core courses, which are focused on collections, histories and genres of museums, writing for museums and exhibitions, public engagement, and exhibition planning; two of these classes (public engagement and exhibition practices) are project based (students produce a program/exhibition), and the museum genres class functions as a “proseminar” that includes many museum/archive/cultural center visits and class speakers with varied professions, paired with readings). Then, to “customize” their course of study, students take 20 elective hours (5 courses) in any discipline they choose (and do 160 internship hours at one or more museum/cultural institutions, and related capstone work–there are now only two options, a project or a thesis).

    Each student is assigned a first year advisor who helps them navigate the university as they begin to choose their electives (and locate internships), and we also email a list of possible elective courses each semester, which we find by looking at all the course offerings across campus. We also work with our affiliated faculty members, who represent many disciplines (history, gender and women’s studies, African American studies, education, anthropology, and so on) to find relevant elective courses. Many of our students have taken courses like Public History and Museum Anthropology that are at least semi-regularly offered by the history and anthro departments. The Art History department also regularly offers a Museum Collections class that is art-focused (our collections class takes place at Hull-House, a historic house museum, and is taught by an anthropologist, Dr. Jennifer Scott, who is the museum director, so it is very interdisciplinary).

    On the negative side–some classes aren’t offered every year (the Museum Anthropology class is an example–it’s a great class that takes place onsite at Field Museum, and we’ve told the anthro faculty that our students love it, but we can’t control when it’s offered), or even every two years, so our elective options are not consistent or predictable. To deal with this we have started, this year, to offer our own elective courses on critical evaluation methods, archiving, and publication (this course is offered yearly and produces a journal with is published by the local Stepsister Press and is available on Amazon and here: We are thinking about developing other more regularly offered elective courses and are open to working with other departments to do this. But this will require that we are first able to build our own program infrastructure by hiring more faculty.

    On the plus side–the university is vast and has hundreds of class offerings to choose from as electives. We have noticed that sometimes students aren’t aware that classes like “Feminist Methodologies” or “Learning Theories” which don’t include the words “museum” or “exhibit” in their titles, will be useful to them in their future museum pathways, which is why we offer so much advising focused on this. And we are now offering and developing our own courses that consistently provide program-related elective options.

    On funding: For our 2015 cohort, 86% received some form of financial assistance. Our program has four Board of Trustee’s Tuition Waivers we can offer, and through our partnerships with Gallery 400 and Jane Addams Hull-House Museum we have had regular access to Graduate Assistantships (at least one per site). In addition we work closely with UIC’s seven cultural centers and the library’s Special Collections, which have also all regularly offered our students assistantships. Also exciting, this year we collaborated with the Museum of Contemporary Art, who hired one of our new incoming students to learn and practice interpretation; and I was just awarded a $100,000 NEH grant that will (once we raise funds that will be matched) provide two students of color a full tuition waiver and stipend for their entire two year courses of study with us. This kicks in in 2018. Also this year I received some small grants that allowed me to pay three students stipends to work on an online exhibition/memorial project with me, called the Illinois Deaths in Custody Project:
    So the funding situation is dynamic.

    In contrast with other museum studies programs, which are 80% white, nationally, ours is diverse. Our Fall 2015 enrolled cohort, for example, is 77.8% underrepresented minorities, according to UIC data. That right there makes us the best program in the United States!

    Also, UIC is among the nation’s top five most diverse campuses; it is designated as a Minority Serving Institution (MSI), an Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI), and a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). UIC’s undergraduate population is currently 26.4% Hispanic, 23.1% Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander, 7.9% Black, 35.8% White, 9.3% International, and 4.3% other/unknown. 53% of UIC’s students are low income, and 36% are Pell eligible.

    We don’t yet have stats for job placement, but we are working on it. Anthony is tracking this and might be able to offer a stat on it. Here’s a list of (some, not all) places our grads have been hired (it’s posted on our website):

    Women’s Board Education Fellow, the Art Institute of Chicago
    Community Engagement and Programming Coordinator, Rebuild Foundation
    Visitor Service Engagement Representative, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Project Manager for Marketing & Development, Adler Planetarium
    Research Assistant, MIR Appraisal Services
    Botany Contractor, Smithsonian Institution, Museum of Natural History
    Invertebrate Zoology Contractor Smithsonian Institution, Museum of Natural History
    Associate Registrar, John Michael Kohler Arts Center
    Collections Manager, Registrar and Exhibitions Coordinator, Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art
    Collections Assistant, The Field Museum of Natural History
    Academic Operations Facilities Specialist, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design
    Editorial & Program Assistant, Smart Museum of Art
    Curator of Public Art, Albright-Knox Art Gallery
    Exhibit Specialist, The California Museum
    Curatorial Assistant, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

    To close, we are still a fairly new program, with just four graduated classes. Every year Anthony and I make changes to the program based on what we see working and not, and on what students tell us. Offering electives and making some courses project-based are examples of requests made by students that we were able to implement within a year. As we move forward we hope to hire at least one more full-time faculty person to strengthen our advising and course offerings, and to develop at least a couple of specific “concentration” areas for students. For example, one might be “Curation as Social Practice” for students who want to learn art curatorial practices, and another might be “Disability and Inclusive Design” for students who are interested in specializing in disability and exhibitions.

    On the issue of “too much art”: Our cohorts have tended to be about 1/3 art/design, 1/3 history, 1/3 anthro/science, with a few random other UG degree areas like gender and women’s studies, political science, education, and literature, so it’s very good that our required classes offer a broad grounding in museum studies, and critical perspectives. My undergrad degree is in art, but I have a PhD in Curriculum Theory, and a history of working as a researcher and exhibit developer in natural history and children’s museums, and as an evaluator in science and other museums. I have never worked in an art museum. But some of our instructors are working from art gallery and museum bases of practice. And, we are located in a School of Art & Art History, so the easiest elective courses to learn about are in those areas; there are posters for them all over the place. But that said, even those courses are not one thing. As an example, our newest art faculty hire practices what she calls “legislative art” and her most recent class focused on decarceration, which several of our students took and loved.

    I’m not sure what “hands on” class is not now being offered. Can you tell me more about that?

    As you noted, two of our required classes are taught by the directors of our two partner institutions–Gallery 400 (Lorelei Stewart) and Hull-House (Jennifer Scott, mentioned earlier).

    On the tuition differential–I agree with the students that it’s ridiculous and Anthony and I both advocate that the university get rid of it.

    About the workshops and skills related to getting a job, we advise students to seek out university resources (there are many) and in particular, to go here:

    I’ll attach here some sample syllabi (Both are mine, and I am happy to have these posted online) and our most recent program handbook which includes program and course descriptions (these can all also be found online at Issuu:

    Please feel free to email or call if you have any other questions. All the best, Therese


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