The Bowdoin College Museum of Art (BCMA) welcomed distinguished alumni back to campus for a discussion on Wednesday in conjunction with its exhibit, “Art Purposes: Object Lessons for the Liberal Arts.” The three alumni, all prominent figures in the field of art, shared how their time at Bowdoin shaped their careers and set them on a path of artistic discovery.
Present on the panel were Shelley Langdale ’85, the current curator and head of the department of modern prints and drawings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; Andrew Walker ’87, director of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas and Bryan Ferriso ’88, the current director of the Portland Art Museum in Portland, Oregon.
Langdale, in sharing her personal journey in the arts, described how she first arrived at Bowdoin with the intent to study government and history to become a lawyer. This quickly changed, however, after she took an introductory course with Associate Professor of Art History Susan Wegner.
Langdale feels that her experience at Bowdoin prepared her for a career working with all artistic media and for the position she now holds at the National Gallery of Art.
“I got to learn so many different aspects of how a museum works,” said Langdale. “But I think also just the whole spirit of the college that I’ve always found is this sort of interest in [how] whatever discipline you’re working in [applies] to engaging, expanding and contributing to the community in some way.”
Langdale went on to explain how she continues to incorporate the College’s principle of the Common Good into her curatorial work.
“I think that, because there isn’t a language barrier with the visual, you can find more points of commonality,” said Langdale. “And if it’s something you don’t understand, and you learn about it, it’s a really … intimate way to learn about other cultures that are different from yours. And I think that’s so vital in this moment.”
Walker, who also emphasized inclusivity, detailed his experience as the director of the Amon Carter Museum and explained his intent to create an environment of diversity, inclusion and accessibility to all who visit the museum.
He explained that this desire began during his time at Bowdoin and that his practice has grown to include a diverse array of communities across the world. He has since translated his artistic interests into an initiative called Carter Community Artists which participates in community outreach and education in the greater Fort Worth area.
Ferriso shared a similar interest in accessible museums which he has manifested in his plans to remodel the Portland Art Museum. He identifies art museums as comprised of three components of equal importance: collections, exhibitions and of course the people that create the artistic experience.
Ferriso cites his time at Bowdoin as foundational to his perception of arts in the 21st century. He also claims that his Bowdoin experience gave him the framework to capture human existence in an emotional, expressive way as a painter.
The panel drew the discussion to a close with an examination of the broader culture of art and the contemporary issues that each panelist faces in their career. When asked about the implications of inequities surrounding the wage gap and the difficulties of budgeting within a museum, the panelists expressed a desire to make lasting change and discussed actions they are taking to make the world of art more equitable and inclusive.
The audience, composed of members of the Bowdoin and greater Brunswick communities, were responsive to the speakers in a short question and answer session. Many comments reflected great appreciation for the continued work of the Bowdoin alumni, not only in the field of art, but in the pursuit of the Common Good.