January 18, 2011

Museums and Society program to grow with Mellon grant

A grant of $484,000 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will allow the Program in Museums and Society at The Johns Hopkins University to expand both its course offerings and its staff.

With support from the grant, four new courses taught by curators at three Baltimore museums will be added to the roster of the increasingly popular Krieger School undergraduate program, now in its fifth year. Grant funds will also facilitate additional instruction for core courses and administrative staffing, allowing Elizabeth Rodini, the program’s associate director, to concentrate on content.

“This grant is not only a wonderful boost to the Program in Museums and Society but a real confirmation of the innovative work that our faculty and students are doing,” said Rodini, also a senior lecturer in the Department of the History of Art. “With the support of the Mellon Foundation, we will be able to broaden our partnerships with area museums and focus on the intellectual concerns that are at the core of the program. What is most exciting is the chance to share what we are doing at Johns Hopkins with general audiences, through the public forum of the museum.”

As with prior practicum courses in the program, the new offerings—dedicated to the printed series at the Baltimore Museum of Art, European decorative arts at the Walters Art Museum and Baltimore’s post-war building boom at the Jewish Museum of Maryland—will each result in a final project such as a special exhibition or experimental installation. A fourth collaboration, with a local museum partner still to be determined, will also be developed.

“This is a course model that we have used very successfully to date, but we have not had funding to maintain it consistently nor a mechanism in place to support integrated planning with our partner museums,” Rodini said. “This grant will permit us to continue and refine this work, which is quite groundbreaking in its tight integration of undergraduate activity with nonaffiliated museums.”

Katherine Newman, the James B. Knapp Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, said that the school is immensely proud of the hard work of its faculty and Rodini, who have created a “signature program.”

“The recognition of the Mellon Foundation underlines the importance of the ‘public humanities’ at Johns Hopkins, the fusion of creative expression accessible to a broad audience with humanistic scholarship, that lies at the heart of our museum program,” Newman said. “We are particularly pleased that the grant will cement our growing partnerships with the distinguished museums in the city of Baltimore.”

Michael Szeto, a senior majoring in political science, discovered the program in his first semester and has taken one class every semester since.

“I worked with Elizabeth Rodini, juniors and seniors to put on an exhibition about the Hubble Telescope at the Walters Art Museum,” he said about his first course. “That class remains, four years after, the most engaging class I have taken. It gave me an entire new perspective on how museums work and the hundreds of decisions that go into putting on even the smallest of exhibits. Students have the chance to complete a final project that will be seen by thousands of people, something few papers or presentations can ever do,” he said.

“The Museums program is such a unique undergraduate offering that it makes my coming to Hopkins even more worthwhile,” he said. “Many of my friends at other colleges are envious.”

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation currently makes grants in five core program areas: Higher Education and Scholarship, Scholarly Communications and Information Technology, Museums and Art Conservation, Performing Arts, and Conservation and the Environment. The foundation’s grantmaking philosophy is to build, strengthen and sustain institutions and their core capacities rather than be a source for narrowly defined projects.