The Colby College Museum of Art benefits from deep ties with peer institutions. One of the most significant relationships we enjoy is that with our closest neighbor, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. This summer, Colby Museum interns were visited by their Bowdoin peers for a morning of learning and exchange. The Lantern invited Honor Wilkinson, curatorial assistant and manager of student programs at the BCMA, to reflect on that meeting in the context of our broader institutional relationship.
The Bowdoin College Museum of Art’s summer internship program provides professional experiences for students to engage with and learn about a variety of museum-related careers. In addition to professional development sessions and organized conversations with the BCMA staff, BCMA interns have the opportunity to converse with individuals on the Bowdoin campus who interact with the Museum in different capacities. Eight weeks into their internship, on Wednesday, August 3, the BCMA’s summer interns and I travelled to Waterville to visit the Colby College Museum of Art for one of their final professional development sessions of the summer. Colby’s Justin McCann, Lunder Curator of Whistler Studies, organized our visit to provide the Bowdoin interns an experience in another academic museum, as well as an occasion to meet the Colby interns and staff.
After a warm welcome from Director Sharon Corwin, the curatorial staff led Bowdoin and Colby interns on a tour of selected exhibitions: Peter Soriano: Permanent Maintenance, A Usable Past: American Folk Art at the Colby College Museum of Art, From Stage to Page: Shakespeare in German Expressionist Prints (a student-curated exhibition), and Picasso: The Vollard Suite. The Bowdoin interns expressed that the exhibitions displayed the curators’ creativity and demonstrated their commitment to conducting new research that might encourage interpretations by a wide range of audiences. A round-table conversation followed, during which Colby staff and interns joined the Bowdoin interns in a discussion about their roles within the museum and their career trajectories. The BCMA interns shared details of their summer projects, received feedback from Colby students and staff, and gained insights into the Colby students’ projects. Interns Will Schweller (Bowdoin ’17) and Ellis Price (Bowdoin ’18) both found the roundtable conversation very valuable, describing the variety and significance of the students’ contributions to each museum as “fascinating.”
Intern Steff Chávez-Flores (Bowdoin ’17) explained that one of the most valuable aspects of her visit to the CCMA was seeing another approach to presenting an academic museum collection. The Bowdoin students’ experiences in academic art museums this summer motivated them to think critically about the work they produced, the presentation of information to the public, the museum’s role on a college campus, and the students’ and faculty’s roles within the museum. While both Bowdoin and Colby are academic museums, Chávez-Flores pointed out, “Each museum presents [its] respective collection in a way that stays true to the history of that collection as well as the history of the gallery spaces.”
The initiation of this collaborative internship relationship, which will continue with a reciprocal student visit to the BCMA on November 11th, is immensely beneficial for our interns’ overall professional and collegiate experience, expanding their connections and helping them to recognize that their support system in the arts exists across Maine. It provides our students, the future generation of museum professionals, artists, gallerists, and academics, with the network, knowledge, skills, and resources that will allow them to confidently enter their professional careers.
Offering students insight into the museum profession through reciprocal visits is just one instance of the unique relationship between the Bowdoin and Colby art museums. One of the joys of working in an academic art museum is witnessing its active involvement with faculty and students and facilitating the use of the collection as a resource. With Colby’s collection strengths in American and contemporary art, and Bowdoin’s collection strengths in European and ancient art, as well as colonial and federal portraits, the Colby and Bowdoin collections can compliment one another. Together, the Bowdoin and Colby collections provide students, faculty, and the Maine community access to cultural heritage and visual expressions spanning the history of civilization.
Dr. Ellen Tani, Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral fellow at the BCMA, explained that the museums often facilitate loans to one another to support faculty teaching. Faculty members can learn about each institution’s collections through Bowdoin-Colby faculty workshops, which are supported by the Mellon Foundation. Dr. Tani and Dr. Shalini Le Gall, curator of academic programs at Colby, organize biannual cross-departmental workshops intended to “enhance object-based pedagogy on [their] respective college campuses,” said Dr. Tani. The faculty workshops also enable Bowdoin and Colby faculty to make connections and discuss their research interests. The commitment of Bowdoin and Colby to offer students and faculty high-quality resources, often through the support of peer institutions, is further exemplified in the museums’ recent collaborative purchase of William Kentridge’s Tango for Page Turning (2012–13), a joint acquisition by BCMA, the Colby Museum, the Rose Art Gallery at Brandeis, the Middlebury College Museum of Art, the Tang Museum at Skidmore College, and the Mount Holyoke Museum of Art.
The Bowdoin interns’ visit to the CCMA is just one more exciting example of the institutions’ intercollegiate support and productive exchange. The opportunity to inspire professional interests, foster collaboration between peers, and learn about the field is essential to a successful internship program. The BCMA intern trip to Colby succeeded in all three.