Tristen Luken Spotlight

At the oldest college in the state, one with over 200 years of history behind it, it is important to recognize the years of experiences and memories that make up Ohio University. One of the ways that current students connect with that history is through research-based art.  

Tristen Luken is a first year graduate student in the Arts Administration program, having completed her year-long undergraduate thesis less than a year ago. The project was based on Luken’s history with Athens and her status as a fourth generation OHIO student.  

Tristen Luken's thesis project.

“I wanted to concentrate on this idea of collective memory related to locality. My experience in Athens is very different from someone who doesn’t have any history related to here, because I already had this preconceived notion before I came here from hearing all these stories growing up, from my grandparents and my mom,” Luken said.  

Luken’s thesis began with the recollection of a story about her grandparents from their time at OHIO in the mid-20th century. The two met through Greek life, a society that included a ritual in which Luken’s grandfather had to sing to her grandmother, who watched from a balcony while surrounded by their friends and peers. This story was just another anecdote from her ancestors' youth, until Luken began going through the archives for her thesis.  

“By going through the archives, I was able to discover in the woman’s handbook this set of rules that are written out, and then I hear my story and I’m able to apply the rules to that story,” said Luken.  

After a piece about that story was created, Luken continued making works to contextualize her family's story within the history of Athens. She compared the way the generations differed, from the singular telephone in her grandmother’s dormitory building to the perpetual band practice in her mother’s college house to Luken’s personal experiences playing video games with friends and roommates.  

“We were all here in very different times, in different worlds and political climates. We were all here doing very different things,” Luken added. "This project allowed the artist to walk in the footsteps of her family, while still following her own path and passions.  

Tristen Luken's thesis project.

After Luken’s thesis was finished, a self-described “connective tissue between each generation,” she applied to present her project at the Student Research Expo in the spring of 2023.  

“It’s always interesting to be in an environment where typically art students aren’t…it was nice to be able to sit there and (say), ‘Look, we work really hard too’,” Luken said.  

Not only was the expo a hotbed for the exchange of ideas and mutual respect among researchers from multiple disciplines, but it also served as the space where Luken was awarded first place in her category. This show of talent is a milestone in Luken’s career, both current and future.  

“I want to work in a museum, and I think getting that background in art administration, especially as a graduate degree that I can get in only a year, feels like…(it) is going to help me in the long run. It just felt like an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Luken said.  

Tristen Luken

Through her program, Luken has learned invaluable lessons about the logistics of running a museum and sticking true to one’s mission through transparency and communication. She also works at the Kennedy Museum of Art and encourages people to immerse themselves in the many opportunities and experiences that the facility has to offer.

December 22, 2023
Sophia Rooksberry