By Jennifer Micale

December 03, 2020

Like breadcrumbs, each clue — a rhyme, a snippet of a colorful image — led seekers further down a winding path.

The final destination: the Binghamton University Art Museum, a treasure trove of incredible art and the home of fun prizes, courtesy of its first-ever scavenger hunt.

The art adventure was organized this fall by a pair of museum interns: senior English major Samantha Marsh and sophomore psychology major Albert Zhang, who were drawn to the internship by a mutual love of museums.

With an art history minor, Marsh enjoyed the different events hosted by the Art Museum in previous semesters — last year’s reading and talk by poet Fred Moten particularly stood out — and jumped at the opportunity to help. Zhang, on the other hand, was originally a student in the School of Management when he toured the museum in one of his classes. He learned about the potential for doing a marketing-related internship there, and thought it would be a good opportunity for exploring the field.

This semester, they were tasked by supervisor Claire Kovacs, curator of collections and exhibitions, with a particular challenge: drawing students to the Art Museum during a pandemic. Because of the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus, museum visitors are limited to students, faculty and staff, all adhering to social distancing and masking rules. As a result, attendance took a hit.

As the semester unfolded, so did the possibility of luring on-campus students from their residence halls to explore Binghamton’s hidden gems — in a contact-free and COVID-safe manner, of course.

“One of the first things that we came up with was kind of like a ‘Where’s Waldo’ game,” Zhang remembered. “It spread out into a scavenger hunt. We thought about a more elaborate way that we can involve the rest of campus, and not keep it restricted only to the museum.”

Students learned about the hunt on the museum’s social media, which brought searchers to the first poster in the library. Scanning a QR code gave them a hint for the next poster in the University Union, which led to another stream of clues and two stops at outdoor sculptures. Eventually, the clues led them to the Art Museum, where they searched for six specific works based on details from the “Holy Hoaxes” exhibition.

The winners received Art Museum swag, including a reusable bag, coloring pages and crayons, and a facemask featuring a detail from a piece in the collection.

The project prompted Zhang to expand his skill base; without a fellow intern focused on graphic design, he had to design the posters himself. Both Marsh and Zhang also learned an important marketing lesson when they advertised the event with tabling: free stuff, such as bookmarks, attracts more eyeballs.

Marsh appreciated the chance to work as a team with Zhang and Kovacs.

“A lot of what you’re doing in school is very individualized. It’s a really good experience to be able to bounce ideas off other people,” she reflected. “And even if those ideas got rejected, it was done in a way that was constructive.”

Only seven students made it to the prizes in the end, which Zhang and Marsh attribute to the difficult timing. Later in the semester, students are often swamped with coursework, they explained. A resurgence of coronavirus cases also forced the University to transition to online classes earlier than expected, truncating the scavenger hunt.

Instead of feeling defeated, they consider the fall scavenger hunt as a trial run. The museum plans to launch another hunt next semester with different works of art, although earlier this time to attract more interest and avoid the end-of-the-semester crunch.

“We wanted to remind students that during these difficult times, the Art Museum is a space to pause, take a beat and explore,” Kovacs said. “Sam and Albert did a wonderful job of conceptualizing, from the ground up, a joyful project that encouraged students to look closely at the artwork and have a bit of fun in the process.”

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