Kennesaw State University graduate student Nina Elsas embraces MA in Art and Design

Nina Elsas in front of The Patch Works sign
Nina Elsas is a graduate student in the M.A., Art and Design program with a concentration in Museum Studies. 

Museum Studies concentration ideal for this art history aficionado who opened own museum

KENNESAW, Ga. (Jan 25, 2022) — Kennesaw State University School of Art and Design’s graduate student Nina Elsas doesn’t know the meaning of taking it easy. The art history buff found herself working long hours in clinical research for Emory University, mainly in cardiology, when she met her future husband, Jake, in Cabbagetown. Jake was living in a converted mill in the historic neighborhood south of Atlanta. Nina explains, “Jake is the great-great grandson of the historic mill’s founder. He has an M.F.A. in film and was doing documentary work, but we both wanted a change.” 

It was “kismet that he wanted to do something with his family history and the mill, and I was also pursuing my next steps. We fell in love and decided to open a museum!” says Nina. She quit the medical field, Jake transitioned out of the film industry, and the newly wedded couple opened The Patch Works Art & History Center in April of 2016, dedicated to the history of Fulton Bag & Cotton Mills and the people who lived in the surrounding village. 

But then the pandemic hit, and both Nina and Jake got COVID-19. Like countless others, the couple had to reevaluate, refocus, and do whatever they needed to do to survive. They closed the doors to The Patch Works in March 2020 and went virtual instead. 

“Jake wasn’t able to work due to ongoing issues from COVID, so during that time, I had a part-time job in a medical office, but knew I had to think long-term, as I might be the sole breadwinner for a while. I saw that KSU had virtual classes, so I applied for the M.A. in Art and Design, and here we are,” she says. 

It was a natural transition for Nina. “I love art, and my family gave me a trip to Italy. I cried the entire time because it was amazing! Everything I had learned in books was right in front of me, and I knew I had to do something related to art.”

Nina in Venice
Nina Elsas, above, enjoyed exploring Italy and seeing great art in person.

The Museum Studies concentration was ideal for her. She explains, “I enjoy the exhibition planning and research phase of museum work, and the details that research provides. I like when all the pieces in my head come together and become reality—that’s the most exciting part of museum work for me.” 

The degree’s focus is preparing her for museum work. “Dr. Stephenson’s class gave me an understanding of the different resources available, whether it’s for my museum, or curating in general, or learning proper collections management. It has expanded my knowledge of the inner workings of the museum and how many people are involved in the day-to-day operations,” she adds. 

In Dr. Kiernan’s World Museums class, Nina couldn’t get over one figure: over 35,000 museums are in existence as of 2014 (and growing). “There is so much out there, there’s so much to learn and see. It’s been a privilege listening to Dr. Kiernan speak about the history of museums,” she says.

Nina is direct about what she would say to a prospective student. “Do it! Don’t hesitate to continue your education! KSU is a wonderful place to be, it’s very well-rounded. This degree will carry students above and beyond. It’s a great way to focus on your specialties and concentrations.” 

In the meantime, she and Jake haven’t given up on The Patch Works. She explains, “Trying to do something from the ground up, it’s so worth it. Now, we’re starting to become an institution for vernacular architecture, historic preservation, and land use. We want to be the flagship for other institutions to learn about preserving culture and heritage in a museum setting.” 

--Kathie Beckett