Hamilton College has received a $6 million endowment from a fund created by alumnus Daniel W. Dietrich II ’64. Dietrich, who died in 2015 graduated with a degree in art history. His posthumous gift will be used to establish the Daniel W. Dietrich ’64 Arts Museum Programming Fund and the Daniel W. Dietrich ’64 Fund for Innovation in the Arts. The College has also received 24 pieces from Dietrich’s private collection, some of which will be displayed at the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art’s five-year collection exhibit planned for fall 2017.
The roughly $2 million allocated to the Arts Museum Programming Fund will enable the Wellin Museum to organize future exhibitions by renowned contemporary artists. Associate Director at the Wellin Museum Megan Austin emphasized the “support for experimental programming” that will be made possible by this fund.
In addition, the fund will increase the level of engagement between the museum and the wider Hamilton community. Austin spoke of the crucial need for students to “develop a sense of ownership over the museum.” The Wellin staff have displayed a strong focus on student engagement in years past through the annual Senior Art Thesis Show, as well as through the regular facilitation of engagement with working artists and the collaboration with student organization Wellin Initiative for Student Engagement (W.I.S.E.). The funding provided by Dietrich will increase the opportunities for student involvement in programmatic planning at the museum.
Austin also noted the large number of students from surrounding counties visiting the museum through school trips. She highlighted the ability of a museum, particularly one in a rural area, to deliver a truly “impactful” experience and expressed hope that the Arts Museum Programming Fund will allow the museum to continue to influence engagement for students and community patrons. Exhibitions supported by the Arts Programming Fund are expected to open during the spring of 2017.
The Fund for Innovation in the Arts will award grants, called Dietrich Inchworm Grants, to arts faculty in order to support experimental and often collaborative art, which Dietrich promoted throughout his life. The title of these grants refers to a quote Dietrich loved by artist Albert P. Ryder: “Have you ever seen an inchworm crawl up a leaf or twig, and, then, clinging to the very end, revolves in the air, feeling for something to reach? That’s like me. I am trying to find something out there beyond the place on which I have a footing.” Although the college has not yet made public a timeline for the distribution of these grants, a committee will be created during the upcoming school year in order to award funds.
The significant support for groundbreaking art provided by these funds serves as a testament to Dietrich’s passion for art and to his generosity. After graduating from Hamilton, Dietrich went on to become a board member at the Institute for Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania. Amy Sadao, the Daniel W. Dietrich II Director at the ICA, said that Dietrich often “spoke of taking risks, of expecting failure, and of trusting artists.” Referring to the $10 million contribution which Dietrich made to the ICA in 2015, Sadao noted that “to make a transformational gift, the largest in the museum’s 52 years, and to acknowledge the need to make the gift flexible, or ‘like a cloud’ was quintessentially Dan.”