How do you think the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art will contribute to Hamilton’s mission to teach students to “learn from each other and think for themselves?”
I feel that exposure to the arts is integral to a liberal arts education and instrumental in teaching students to think and problem solve creatively. A museum as an entity ties a wide range of ideas to specific objects and creates new connections for consideration. The art experience is about broadening horizons and helping the audience develop a visual literacy that will inform and enrich life beyond the walls of the museum. A museum on a college campus has the benefit of student involvement, among others, which creates a sense of unity and energy that is both about learning and teaching. Working with art objects is a process of activating the senses and in that way it can be engaging both intellectually and physically.
Tell us more about your own connection to the Arts. Would you consider yourself an artist? Who would you say is your favorite artist? Type of art?
A museum professional is in a unique position acting as an intermediary between artists, curators, scholars and the audience. My job as director is to provide a vision and a general trajectory for the institution. My objective is to create programming that is cutting-edge yet accessible to a wide range of audiences, from the art savvy to those with little exposure to art. With an emphasis on contemporary art, I will develop exhibitions that are of relevance today. I am not an artist, although I am a creative person. I consider the process of writing about art and curating exhibitions to be a creative endeavor. In addition, I am an avid collector of art.
As far as my favorite artists, my curatorial practice emphasizes modern and contemporary art; however my secondary concentration at Skidmore was Renaissance art and my graduate thesis focused on a 19th century subject. I feel connected to works of different eras for different reasons. The project I am working on at any given moment will often influence or dictate the kind of work I am engaged with. But I am very committed to the artists I show. I believe that museums should serve the audience but also artists.
Before coming to Hamilton, you worked at the Hunter College Art Galleries in New York City. What do you expect to be different about directing The Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton, given its rural location? How do you really feel about moving to the middle of nowhere?
Numerous factors played a role in drawing me to the Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College. A major reason was that during my visits to Hamilton College, I was struck by the level of engagement and interest from the staff, faculty and students. Their excitement and enthusiasm was infectious and instrumental in my decision. I hope the Wellin will contribute significantly to the cultural and social life of the community in a way that no single institution in New York City can. Also as a new institution, we can create an identity that reflects significant trends in the art world and other fields that are only beginning to emerge. We can be part of the conversation of what the future holds for art. This exploration is of particular interest to me.
As far as how I feel personally about moving to upstate New York, I think it will be an adventure. My time at Skidmore College, which shares similarities with Hamilton College, was a very memorable period. I’ve lived in New York City for most of my life and it is an exciting, vibrant and frenetic place both in the art world and otherwise. In addition, I have traveled extensively. I am now looking for a new experience, one that benefits my personal life and offers a new opportunity professionally.
My 4-year-old son has spent his life so far in New York City and I want to introduce him to a new experience—to a world beyond pavement and honking cars. He is very excited about the prospect of having a backyard, something that hardly exists in the city. And for my husband, who is from Toronto, he’s halfway home. I will of course retain my connections with New York City and nurture and draw on those crucial relationships in my role as director of the Wellin.
The Art Museum will definitely reinvigorate enthusiasm for the arts on campus. How do you plan on integrating the Art Museum into the campus culture? What role might students play?
I hope that students will be involved in all aspects of the museum and have a role in how we interpret material and present exhibitions. Additionally, I see the Wellin as a place that involves important artists, scholars and professionals in other disciplines, and as a significant player in envisioning the museum of the future.
Do you have any plans to connect the Wellin Museum of Art to the larger Oneida county community?
I have been in contact with institutions within the county as well as other institutions in the northeast. I hope to create a network of likeminded museum leaders with whom we can exchange ideas, artworks, and exhibitions. There is also a large population of artists who live or have studios in the area, and I hope to find a way to connect with that thriving community as well.
You attended Skidmore College as an undergraduate. How did your liberal arts experience contribute to your passion for the Arts?
Skidmore College allowed me to pursue a wide range of interests, including classical piano, dance, Romance Languages, English and art history, which was my major, and studio art, which I minored in. Additionally, I hosted a weekly radio show and was a tutor in the writing center. I also studied abroad in London and Florence. All this fueled my interest in the arts. The study of art history was a way of connecting various fields of study: science, history, politics, social movements and evolving tastes and styles. Art is not merely a record of those disciplines rather it is open to interpretation and at times, highly personal.
Adding to my last “From Where I Sit” piece, I’d like to follow up with something that has occurred to me a lot over this last semester: Do we have personal coordinates or are they a myth only spoken of in an intro of philosophy class?
Do we have free will (can we act rationally)? Or is everything predetermined, and are we akin to robots, simply carrying out a program written for them by forces out of their controls? Well, these questions are (mostly) for philosophers and abstract thinkers to ponder upon, but they very much relate to how we should treat others.
A straightforward analogy to genes or our biological makeup is our background, socio-economic and the geographical coordinates that we were born and raised in. Those numbers are set, so should our behavior be confined to these limits? Hopefully we are more like blank slates then a set of prejudices and values set by others, but I personally think we can’t help but be bound in a lot of ways to how we were “programmed.” It follows that; surely we are not entirely responsible for how we act towards others of different makeup. So how relevant really is the question of how you treat people of different race/countries/etc. (I concur that the question is way too big to state in its entirety on a column, but then again, it helps to become more aware of the issues at hand…).
The answers are, in my humble opinion, yes and yes—it certainly is and we are very much responsible. In such a diverse community, a culture where the term “melting pot” is so often used as a description (and aptly so), it should come, quite naturally, the multicultural-ness in ones inherent nature. That doesn’t just mean having sushi at dinner or knowing the difference between lo mein and chow mein, but knowing that in the East, food is meant to be a shared, communal experience, or that the amount of effort that goes into making a particular kind of food marks its value.
But to be perfectly honest, Hamiltonians-wise, there is little to complain about. And I am definitely not one of the tour guides leading the pack of prospective students. Of course nothing is perfect, but even as the work starts to really roll in (really, where did all these midterms come from?), stress starts to build, and the novelty of an absolutely gorgeous campus fades a little, relatively, Hamilton is a pretty neat place to be a part of.
We are a pretty tight-knit group, but we also make a lot of efforts to reach out, help the community and break the bubble. We are definitely not without borders, but we are very aware of our problems and are working diligently to alleviate them. If you have ventured to the much-revered Career Center, you know just how much our alumni are willing to help out and give back to the college. That should say something about the experience here. Personally, I didn’t think coming to the Hill seemed like a learning experience, diversity-wise, but, Hamilton unassumingly proved this false. So thank you, Hammy, for being such a good sport!