Grant to foster deeper connection between Stanford art students and art museum

Cantor Arts Center

A $500,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will strengthen collaboration between the Department of Art and Art History and the Cantor Arts Center.

Over the next three-and-a-half years, the grant will support new initiatives within the art history graduate program that use the museum’s collections in coursework and research and provide curatorial training for students.

“In the history of art, there is a sense that the museum of objects is separate from what is going on in the academy, where you are taught from reproductions,” said Professor NANCY TROY, chair of the Department of Art and Art History. Every art history student has a story about seeing a work of art for the first time after only studying it on a screen or from a textbook. Who isn’t surprised at the diminutive size of the Mona Lisa?

The Mellon Foundation grant will bring together scholarship and works of art to facilitate graduate training in an object-based environment, where students study and experience the thrill of handling physical objects instead of learning purely from projected images.

Jump-starting collaboration

This separation of the museum and the academy is echoed geographically on the Stanford campus in the distance between the Cantor and the Cummings Art Building, which is home to the Department of Art and Art History as well as the Art and Architecture Library.

This distance will be compressed with construction of the McMurtry Building and the The Anderson Collection now underway in the campus’ developing arts district.

“The Cantor has to rethink itself and reposition the role that it will play as an anchor for the arts on campus,” said CONNIE WOLF, director of the Cantor. “The art and art history building is going to be side-by-side with the museum for the first time, but having buildings next door to each other isn’t enough. The Mellon grant is really allowing us to start creating these meaningful connections and to launch them in a very significant way.”

The Mellon grant will be able to jump start collaboration between the two institutions by funding a series of six new programs that will strengthen students’ familiarity with objects. New seminars will focus on the history of collecting and display, museum conservation and the study of objects in Cantor’s extensive collections. One two-quarter “seminar-plus” course on curatorial strategies will culminate in a class-curated exhibition. Another will focus on reinstalling the Asian art galleries, tackling Asian art’s complexity and diversity while exploring fresh angles on the problems of categorization and representation. Finally, five curatorial research assistantships at Cantor will enable students to curate their own exhibitions, working directly with Cantor’s collections and pursuing their specific research interests.

Wolf hopes the new courses and the research assistantships become an integral part of the art history program: “I want to make this so important and essential to our education process and the role of the museum that at the end of this period it is embedded in the DNA of who we are.”

Read more on the Stanford Arts website.

 —KATHARINE SCHWAB, Stanford Arts Institute