The Bowdoin College Museum of Art (BCMA) opened its doors to the public for the first time in over a year this semester, and the staff has many plans to rekindle engagement in the spring. There are two main initiatives set to roll out early next semester: an anti-racism strategic plan and the museum ambassador program.
The anti-racism strategic plan intends to expand on the Anti-Racism Action Plan released by the BCMA last year. This plan will set specific goals for the Museum to reach as it continues to cultivate diversity in acquisition and programming.
“Racism is so embedded in our society historically, and it’s been built into our institutions in many ways,” Anne Goodyear, Co-Director of the BCMA, said. “In a sense, we have to fight fire with fire, and we have to develop strategies for thinking about our own existing infrastructures—how do we dismantle some of the prejudices that have been built into them?”
The new acquisitions announced Wednesday, December 8, echo this initiative of bringing more diversity into the Museum collection.
One highlight from the works announced is “The Captured Runaway” by William Gale, which is now on display in the Museum. In this painting Gale, an early 1800s abolitionist, depicts an enslaved woman captured by a hunter as part of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. This work is heralded as a rare example of abolitionist art from this period and intends to capture another facet of Civil War era art.
“Gale has gone to great lengths to set the dramatic scene, highlighting the hopeless plight of this courageous, captured slave, but with this, suggests that escape could be possible,” Frank Goodyear, Co-Director of the BCMA, said.
Beyond historical pieces, the Museum also introduced works by many Asian and Indigenous artists, including a collection by Chuzo Tamotzu, an early 20th century Japanese American artist who created paintings about the experiences of Japanese people during and directly following World War II.
At the other end of the spectrum, the new acquisitions also include modern artists, such as Celia Vasquez Yui from the Shipibo People in Peru. Her miniature animal sculptures draw on the original style and technique of the Shipibo People through a more modern medium.
These acquisitions and more will continue to rotate through the museum’s galleries over the coming months. The Goodyears hope that these new pieces will show a more diverse array of artists and cultures.
Another initiative coming to the Museum is the ambassador program. The Goodyears intend for the ambassador program to serve as another way to attract more Bowdoin students to the community.
Spearheaded by the BCMA educational interns, Ramiro Storni ’23 and Jane Wang ’23, the program is geared toward students who have an interest in learning more about the Museum and sharing it with their peers, disregarding major and class year.
“If you can have ambassadors that aren’t art history or visual arts-related, they really set an example about how anybody can be in the Museum and about how anybody can interpret art,” Wang said.
The ambassadors will work with the educational interns, Brunswick community members and student groups on campus to use Museum space for a wider variety of events and to make it more accessible for all students.
“While the Museum is doing a really good job of getting classes in there and getting professors to engage academically, there is not really a student interaction on the community side,” Storni said. “We want to foster that.”
Post-Baccalaureate Curatorial Assistant Sabrina Lin ’21 believes that the program will engage these student ambassadors with the Museum and in turn have them engage with the community.
“We are opting for the terminology of ‘ambassador,’ as opposed to student interns, because it’s a two way process,” Lin said. “We’re not just asking you to go out and promote the Museum but also we’re looking to have student input to change the Museum to make us more open and accessible and welcoming.” said.
The ambassador program is planning to take applications in the spring.