Watson Fellowship will take Madi Goetzke ’21 to Panama, Malaysia, Nigeria, and Brazil

May 7, 2021

Kyra McConnell ’22

Portrait Photo of Madi Goetzke
Madi Goetzke '21
Photo credit: Jonathan Clark '25

Madi Goetzke ’21 will spend a year traveling the world as a Watson fellow to analyze the role of communally-based cultural heritage sites which double as UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sites. Her project, Reimagining Access to Communal Cultural Heritage Sites, will take Goetzke through the Global South, including Panama, Malaysia, Nigeria, and Brazil.

An art history major, Goetzke first became interested in cultural heritage during a semester abroad in Senegal, when she spoke with residents of Saint-Louis about the relationship between the state, the community, and culture. Upon noticing a clear class divide in the city, Goetzke began asking questions. “I wanted to know, what does heritage look like for people? What does heritage look like for people as a daily lived experience? What can relationships to cultural heritage look like?” From there, her project began to take shape.

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship is a one-year grant for purposeful, independent exploration outside the United States, awarded to graduating seniors nominated by one of 40 partner colleges. Fellows conceive original projects, deciding where to go, who to meet, and when to change course. The fellowship provides a one-year stipend of $30,000.

Goetzke developed an interest in the Watson program during her first year at Oberlin when she began thinking about opportunities for art historical research. The freedom offered by the program would allow her to explore new ways of thinking about art and accessibility.

“Watson was the first opportunity I saw that really embraced on-the-ground relationship building as a critical part of art history. I thought it could be an opportunity to bring what already feels like a heady, academic study of art history into a more pragmatic framework of how people live and how they live amongst what we consider art history.”

To incorporate these ideas into her project, Goetzke plans to lead a map-making activity among groups of people in the Global South, asking them to draw their ideas of culture and community. The activity, Goetzke hopes, will transcend language barriers and encourage an authentic expression of different perspectives.

Goetzke will begin studying these perspectives in San Felipe, Panama, researching alongside a local university professor how UNESCO world heritage sites impact access to housing. In order to understand the effects of gentrification and tourism on San Felipe locals, Goetzke will meet with housing activist groups advocating for basic rights.

From there, Goetzke will travel to George Town, Malaysia, to study clan jetty villages. “Jetties have the largest collection of postwar architecture and as a result, they've been prized by UNESCO. At the same time, rising sea levels and tourism really impact the locals there. I’ll be conducting interviews with shopkeepers in the area and doing wide ranging research at universities and local hotels, from massive chains to basic hostels to see the impact of tourism,” Goetzke said.

In Nigeria, Goetzke plans to visit Osun-Osogbo, home to a sacred river dedicated to the Yorùbá orisha Oṣun. There, she plans to analyze the upkeep of UNESCO sites in more natural environments.

Finally, Goetzke will arrive in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she will study life on the wharfs and favelas of the city, and participate in candomblé religious ceremonies to better understand Brazilian relationships to cultural heritage.

Goetzke chose to focus her project around the Global South because of the wide scope of environments offered.

“The themes that you see in the Global South are largely gentrification, tourism, environmental impacts, as well as art-historical and archeological efforts to preserve. Each of these places offers a different environment, different relationships to culture and heritage, new political systems and new economic systems. They offered the most diverse scope for an already diverse project. I wanted to embrace that.”

A native of Saint Louis, Missouri, Goetzke is a Bonner Scholar and has served in the Ninde Scholars program, spending time as a docent and student volunteer in the Education department at the Allen Memorial Art Museum where she develops educational programming for K-12 students to improve visual literacy in Oberlin and Lorain County. After her Watson year, she plans to pursue a master’s and PhD in art history. She plans to work in the public programs and learning and engagement fields to “make the arts into an accessible community resource.”

Goetzke is thankful for the support of friends and faculty at Oberlin. “Those are people who will always feel proud of you whenever you don't feel proud of you,” she said. “Those are the perspectives that matter.”

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