Western Gallery’s new museum educator looks to build bridges to Western & community

Museum educator Zoë Fejeran wouldn’t usually advise visitors to the Western Gallery to take off their shoes in the space, but barefoot Dance students moving through the Isamu Noguchi sculptures is one of her favorite moments in the gallery since she took on her role at the start of fall quarter.

Fejeran graduated from Western in 2017 with BFA in Art History and minors in English and Anthropology. She went on to get her master’s in Art Education at the University of Texas, Austin, before returning to her alma mater.

She spoke with Western Today about breaking down barriers to art and why she wants to get more students — from Western and local schools — into the gallery.

Fejeran’s answers have been edited for clarity.

Western Today: Can you tell me about what you do as the museum educator?

Zoë Fejeran: Within Western’s Gallery, I wear a couple different hats. I do a lot of tours and educational outreach, working with classes, whether they come into this gallery space or our outdoor sculpture collection. I also do community programming and outreach. We have a speaker series right now called Perspectives, and it invites different Western faculty and academics into this space to use their expertise to give talks that are open to the public that are related and inspired by the current exhibition we have. We also have our museum studies interns. They learn by doing, so I’m working with them on some writing projects, showing them what we do in the gallery.

WT: Why is art education such an important element of the Western Gallery?

ZF: I think that there might be a perception that the Western Gallery is separate from campus. If you think about the outdoor sculpture collection as an extension of the gallery, we are literally embedded within the campus. I think that it is so important that students, teachers, faculty, the community know that we are here and this can be a place of learning. I feel very motivated by the goal of working on any perceived barriers to the gallery space. I really want folks to feel welcome in here.

One of the coolest things for me so far is we had a Western Dance group come in under Susan Haynes and they did a performance in here. In one of the rehearsals, I got to watch them walk in and just spread out and make themselves comfortable. It was the first time for me that I saw a group of Western students come in, literally get comfortable, taking off their shoes and moving around. While we wouldn’t always encourage people to come in and take off their shoes, it was a wonderful connection to be able to see them feeling comfortable in this space.

Within the idea of this being a space for people to learn from, we also hope this is a place where people can have conversations. We think very intentionally about the exhibits we have and the types of conversations that we can encourage people to have in this space.

WT: What role do you see the gallery playing in students’ experiences and classes?

ZF: I think it offers a great jumping off point for arts discussions but also just getting students outside of their regular classroom to come and learn in here and work on projects.

Something like the Perspectives series is an iteration of a bigger goal mine: more cross-campus collaborations. Finding more branches and connections that we can have the Western Gallery spread out a bit and also have people think of us when they are trying to think of some other way to get a unit across or teach from an idea.

That goes the other way with inviting people in here to share their expertise with us and the public. Maybe in the future that looks like more workshops in the gallery space. I’m interested in expanding the K-12 connection and different community connections. Just making sure the gallery doesn’t feel too isolated or too within campus where folks maybe feel that they don’t have access to it if they feel they’re not connected to Western in some way.

WT: What role can and does the gallery play in the broader community?

ZF: Part of our mission statement as a gallery is that we create diverse visual arts experiences for the community, and that we’re committed to creating an environment for learning. That can mean many things.

Bellingham to me has always felt like a town that is so integrated in the arts. We have such a lively music scene, and there’s so many galleries, and we have the historical museum and the Lightcatcher museum. It’s important that the Western Gallery feels as welcoming to the public as the others that are downtown. As a university, we have access to different connections and different folks we’re able to host. We just hosted the Noguchi Symposium where we had national and international scholars come. We did our best to make sure the keynote address and our welcoming ceremony were free and open to the public.

On a personal note, I entered into this job feeling motivated by wanting to make those community connections.

WT: What is something you wish local teachers knew about the gallery?

ZF: Under the Western Gallery, we umbrella so much: our collection, our exhibitions, outdoor sculptures.

Within that, as someone who’s interested in education and in creating those community connections, to me it reads as so many opportunities.

I learned a lot about STEM versus STEAM and how the arts part really is important.

It’s on my brain a lot how we can hammer that point home. Looking around at the sculptures we have, there’s incredible design elements and more formal mechanical elements that you don’t need a background in the arts to be able to talk about and appreciate. I’m hoping people know that we’re here, that we have the opportunities to create those conversations.

I will tell you so you can tell whoever needs to hear it: I want to work with you. I want to work with different teachers. I really want to find ways to make these tours and experiences productive for their classes. I want to work with teachers to make those visits meaningful and applicable to what they’re working on. I hope people know that when they schedule a tour, if they have something in mind, we are open to talking about how we can make that happen. It’s not always fun to give the same tour every time, so I really do want to be able to meet them where they’re at.

Learn more about the Western Gallery at westerngallery.wwu.edu

Zoë Fejeran smiles in an indoor portrait.