As an art advisor, I recognize the power of arts philanthropy and the need to support museums. Among other institutions, I support the Smith College Museum of Art, where I interned as an undergraduate. Smith began collecting art in 1879, four years after its founding, so that students could engage with the art of their time. It’s hard to remember that William Meritt Chase and Edgar Degas were once Contemporary artists when they entered the Smith Museum! Today, I co-chair and helped found the Contemporary Associates, a group of alumnae that funds acquisitions of Contemporary photography and video for the museum’s permanent collection. Through active study of actual works of art, like “RMB City,” (2007) by Cao Fei (recently featured at MoMA PS1) students engage with challenging ideas, ensuring that art remains relevant to future generations.
Recently, the Smith College Museum announced a transformational gift by arts patron Charlotte Feng Ford (class of ‘83). Ford pledged $2.5 million to endow a permanent curator of Contemporary art, making Smith one of the “only college museums in the nation to have a position dedicated to contemporary work.” This gift acknowledges the leadership role Smith has played in fostering game-changing museum professionals, such as Dorothy Miller (class of ‘25), the first curator of the Museum of Modern Art in 1933 and Thelma Golden (class of ‘85), Director of the Studio Museum in Harlem.
As a liberal arts college, Smith has been ahead of the curve in collecting Contemporary art. This prescience continues today under the leadership of Director Jessica Nicoll (class of ‘85). Under her tenure in 2012, Smith acquired a seminal work by Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Dressing to Go Out/Undressing to Go In (1973), that the museum acquired in 2009.
Smith exhibited this work in a landmark exhibition in 2015, Women’s Work: Feminist Art from the Collection. Today, the Queens Museum in New York is honoring Mierle Laderman Ukeles with a retrospective that documents the “maintenance” art she became known for, an ongoing performance piece in which she worked alongside New York City sanitation workers, helping them to collect garbage.
I am proud to participate in Smith’s commitment to bringing Contemporary art to young women in the full blossom of their intellectual investigation of the world around them. As a student at Smith in the 80s, art shaped my understanding of the past and also illuminated my path for the future. For that I am eternally grateful. I encourage my clients to seek out institutions that matter to them where they can make a difference, because I have direct experience with how enriching arts philanthropy is, in conjunction with art collecting. The two go hand in hand, making engagement with Contemporary art that much more rewarding.