For some, “art” refers to old paintings in heavy frames hanging in a museum. For others, art is a means of expression. For Bowdoin’s new Curatorial Assistant and Manager of Student Programs Elizabeth Humphrey ’14, art is personal.
“My dad is an artist, so I grew up touching and handling all art,” Humphrey said. “I went to this folk gallery where you are encouraged to handle everything. It’s a different type of personal experience rather than totally an academic or theoretical framework of interacting with art. I didn’t grow up going to museums until I got to college.”
After stumbling into art history, Humphrey graduated from Bowdoin with a degree in visual arts and art history.
“I ruled out computer science pretty quickly,” Humphrey said. “I did government for a bit and then realized that there were other ways to do cultural diplomacy. I took an art history course and was like, ‘Oh, my brain works this way.’”
After earning her master’s degree in American material culture from the Winterthur Program at the University of Delaware, Humphrey started this summer as the Bowdoin College Museum of Art’s (BCMA) Curatorial Assistant and Manager of Student Programs. The position lasts for two years.
“It’s a very special set of circumstances that Elizabeth happened to be the right person, at the right time, to return to Bowdoin,” said Anne Goodyear, co-director of the BCMA. “We feel very lucky that we actually worked with her when she was an intern back in the summer of 2013, so we had a chance to get to know her at the very beginning of our time at Bowdoin. One of the things that Elizabeth brings forward that is so exciting for us is her experience as a Bowdoin student. We recognize that one of our greatest resources, and without a doubt our most important audience, is Bowdoin students.”
Returning to Bowdoin was not part of Humphrey’s plan. But Humphrey realized this position allowed her to experience aspects of a career in museums and academia while being able to connect with students.
“Trying to figure out ways to engage [students] from their own interests was the part [of the job] that really gravitated toward me the most,” Humphrey said. “[I am] thinking about how to not only get students into the museum, but how to make the museum relevant to them in their coursework and social lives and interests.”
As a former student, one of Humphrey’s main goals is to create a more welcoming environment for students to enter the museum by implementing student-to-student tours.
Humphrey also hopes to bring a panel of recent Bowdoin graduates working in the arts to campus in order to explain their career path after college—something she would have appreciated as a student. Career Planning and the Bowdoin Art Society partnered with the museum last October to host a similar event.
“People are always invited [to speak] who are at that mid-level career. I remember it was hard to imagine how I went from graduation to that point,” Humphrey said. “I think having people five, eight, 10 years out would help show steps you can take.”
Her desire to help students access the resources available to them and interact with art in meaningful ways made Humphrey stand out in a large pool of applicants from across the nation, said Frank Goodyear, co-director of the BCMA.
“It became readily apparent to us that she is very special because of her commitment to wanting to give back, to use the education that she has received and to do good work in an academic museum setting,” said Goodyear. “I think that heartfelt desire to reach out and to pay it back is something that really made her stand out.”
For Humphrey, the most important part of her job remains student engagement.
“I’ve been able to leverage different facets of my experience to cultivate a world in which I feel like I’m doing good work,” Humphrey said. “I make time for students. If that doesn’t come across, I’m not doing my job right.”