News from Mardigian Library: Q&A with Laura Cotton, Lora Lempert Book Fund


Get to know Laura Cotton, curator and manager of the library’s Berkowitz Gallery, learn about the library’s support of the Lora Lempert Book Fund for incarcerated women, and discover new February resources.

Getting to know Laura Cotton, curator and manager of the library’s Berkowitz Gallery

Laura Cotton is the art curator and gallery manager of the Alfred Berkowitz Gallery on the third floor of the Mardigian Library. She curates our gallery exhibitions, like the Zam! Pow! Bam!: The Art of the Comic Book Cover exhibition on view in the gallery until April 7. The library’s Social Media Committee sat down with Cotton, who chatted with us about her work at the gallery and what she likes to do for fun outside of work.

What are your main job duties at the Mardigian Library and what do you love most about what you do?
I am the department head for the Art Collections and Exhibitions Department. I manage the Alfred Berkowitz Gallery and supervise our registrar, Autumn Muir. I curate and install four exhibitions per year in the gallery, and develop and coordinate all educational programming. Gallery exhibitions utilize artworks from the permanent collection and items on loan from other institutions. Current work from renowned regional and national artists is also displayed. Many exhibitions are designed to complement and augment university curriculum. I also strive to feature, promote, and encourage the work of emerging and minority artists whenever I am able.

I am responsible for overseeing the preservation, storage, interpretation and display of the 3,800 works of art owned by the university. This remarkable permanent collection consists of 20th- and 21st-century artwork of all media and styles with a large portion being studio glass. Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Jacob Lawrence, Electra Stamelos, Vera Sattler, Howard Ben Tré, Fred Birkhill, Herb Babcock and Dale Chihuly are just a few of the globally known artists represented.

I manage and coordinate the gallery student internship program, as well as the installation, inventory, and display of the artwork on view around campus. I also oversee the numerous events held within the gallery for various university departments. Fundraising, marketing, library service, campus and community outreach, donor and artist relations, customer service, art research and writing are all also big parts of my job. My second job is teaching museum studies to UM-Dearborn undergraduates.

With the exhibitions and educational programming, I am given a unique opportunity to spread knowledge and expand minds and hearts through art. It is quite rewarding to be able to present a wide variety of exhibitions that reach out to a number of different regional communities, and to also utilize the university’s collection in ways that assist the faculty in their curriculum goals. I also really enjoy being an educator and mentor for UM-Dearborn students and the many people that visit the gallery from other schools. My position allows me the chance to make a positive difference in the world in my own small way. That’s a privilege that I take very seriously.

What do you do for fun outside of work?
I’m very close with my family, even though none of them live in Michigan. I take trips to see them whenever possible. I also enjoy spending time with friends going to concerts, musicals, museums, art galleries, breweries and restaurants. I also really enjoy hiking and outdoor activities, road trips, and going to Tigers and Red Wings games. I moved to Michigan three years ago from Montana. I’ve found Detroit to be a fascinating city with a wonderfully rich arts community! I’ve spent a lot of time outside of work exploring Detroit, the state of Michigan and the surrounding states. It’s fun for me to show off my new city to my family and friends when they visit.

What is the one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
People might be surprised to learn that I studied classical piano and performed in piano competitions for 15 years. Also, I love to sing and my high school choir from my tiny hometown in Montana was given the opportunity to sing on the Today Show in the ’90s. It was the biggest thing that had ever happened to any of us!

Do you have any tips or advice for students?
I would advise students to remember to utilize all that the gallery has to offer when they visit the library. We provide many interesting, informative, and fun lectures and workshops, in addition to the exhibitions. These resources can be useful to their educational goals and enhance their UM-Dearborn experience. Art can be successfully incorporated into any kind of curriculum, including science, math, history and engineering.

The gallery offers students the unique opportunity to directly research and interact with the artwork in the collection. In addition, the gallery offers Museum Studies students the chance to gain professional experience curating and installing exhibitions within a working art gallery. The students also write and publish corresponding exhibition catalogs. Internships are available for students interested in curation and collections management.

The gallery can also serve as a nice place to take a break from studying!

What is the last movie you saw?
The last movie I saw was The Post. It was a fantastic movie with a very timely message for today’s world.

Supporting the Lora Lempert Book Fund for incarcerated women: Librarians and staff at the Mardigian Library donate $200 

Librarians and staff at the Mardigian Library recently donated over $200 to support the Lora Lempert Book Fund, which provides books and materials for incarcerated women taking courses through the Women’s Prison Project. For 15 years, UM-Dearborn faculty and staff have taught for the project and as part of the Inside-Out Prison Education Program, both of which provide education to incarcerated students in southeast Michigan. Francine Banner, director of the Women's Prison Project, shared heartwarming thank you letters from several residents at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility.

Although we are in prison, most of us are trying to make good changes. I can think of no better way to change a person than by giving them books.

I am writing to thank you for your thoughtfulness in regards to your gift of books. Books are our ‘escape’ from a mostly dreary environment.

The Lora Lempert Book Fund was established by UM-Dearborn’s Women and Gender Studies Program in honor of Lora Lempert, professor emerita of sociology (CASL), who launched the university's prison programs in 2007. If you are interested in teaching incarcerated students or in supporting prison education via a donation, please contact Francine Banner ( or Paul Draus (, who runs the Inside-Out program.

New resources at the Mardigian Library

E-book Updates
Black and Blue: Inside the Divide Between the Police and Black America, Jeff Pegues (Prometheus Books, ©2017).
A rift between law enforcement officers and people of color has existed for a long time. The recent killings in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and Ferguson are just the latest examples of a growing crisis. CBS News correspondent, Jeff Pegues, provides readers with statistics, unbiased facts, and perspectives from both sides of this divide. He spoke with top law enforcement officials throughout the United States and interviewed community activists, police union leaders, and others at the heart of this debate. He provides possible solutions gathered from activists, police chiefs, and politicians.

Executing Freedom: The Cultural Life of Capital Punishment in the United States, by Daniel LaChance (The University of Chicago Press, ©2016)
In the mid-1990s, despite the fact that the public’s trust in big government was at an all-time low, 80% of Americans told Gallup that they supported the death penalty. Why did people who didn’t trust government believe that it should have the power to put people to death? Using a wide range of source material, the author shows how attitudes toward the death penalty reflect broader shifts in Americans’ thinking about the relationship between the individual and the state. This book provides an in-depth look at the place of the death penalty in American culture and how it has changed over time.

Experiment Earth: Responsible Innovation in Geoengineering, by Jack Stilgoe (Routledge, ©2015)
Geoengineering, intentionally manipulating the Earth’s climate to reduce global warming, has become the focus of a debate about responsible science and innovation. Stilgoe draws on three years of sociological research as he worked with scientists on one of the world’s first major geoengineering projects. The book examines the politics and issues surrounding this type of experimentation.

Stop and Frisk: The Use and Abuse of a Controversial Policing Tactic, by Michael D. White and Henry F. Fradella (New York University Press, ©2016)
The authors provide a detailed history and analysis of this controversial policing tactic (stopping, questioning, and frisking ordinary people on the street that they think are potential suspects). Though largely focused on the New York Police Department’s use of Stop and Frisk, they also provide examples from police departments throughout the country, including Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, and Detroit. White and Fradella discuss both the proper use and abuse of the tactic and they argue that, if managed properly, Stop and Frisk can be a part of policing in the 21st century.

Theory for the Working Sociologist, by Fabio Rojas (Columbia University Press, ©2017)
According to Rojas, social theory is easy to understand if you understand sociology’s hidden playbook. He discusses the four theoretical “moves” sociologists make when trying to explain the social world. Drawing on empirical studies that define modern sociology, Rojas reveals how areas of sociology that seem dissimilar are linked by shared theoretical frameworks.

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