As the Wellin marks its fifth anniversary, one question emerges as especially relevant: How does a new museum synthesize and build upon more than 200 years of institutional history? Hamilton College has recognized the value of the arts to a liberal arts education for two centuries. It is in the College’s DNA. Before the Wellin Museum opened in 2012, a series of venues existed on campus for the display of artworks, artifacts, and objects of material culture. Over time, the College amassed almost 6,000 objects—in a range of mediums and from a variety of cultures and eras—for its permanent collection.
My challenge as founding director of the Wellin was to find points of contact with Hamilton’s traditions and ethos while simultaneously developing an innovative program of exhibitions and public events, building a globally representative teaching collection, and creating opportunities for artist engagements that would spark the imagination of our students and faculty and support teaching in an exploratory way. Through the lens of art, the Wellin strives to initiate dialogues across disciplines, inspire experimentation, and foster creative inquiry. We have tried many approaches and have found a readiness on the part of the community to embrace the Museum along with new modes of teaching and learning.
We have come so far since the Wellin opened, and have much to celebrate. We have welcomed 50,000 visitors, presented 20 exhibitions, produced 12 publications, organized 114 public programs and events, hosted 16 visiting artists, acquired 450 works of art for the permanent collection, and hosted 90 Hamilton classes. We have forged partnerships with museums and academic institutions across the country such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Honolulu Museum of Art, and the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston. We developed a publications program in partnership with Delmonico Books•Prestel, a division of Random House, and, through our community-outreach initiatives, we have built connections with local school districts from the surrounding counties of Herkimer, Oneida, and Madison. Our programs have been recognized in media outlets such as The New York Times, ARTnews, The Art Newspaper, The Huffington Post, Forbes, among many others.
We have an exciting line-up of programs for the 2017-2018 season, including the exhibition Innovative Approaches, Honored Traditions, a selection of 140 artworks drawn from the permanent collection opening on September 9. We are also delighted to introduce a new format for our blog, featuring insightful articles on a range of topics—from activities at the Wellin to artist profiles to the latest trends within the art world—authored by members of our community, including Hamilton students and faculty, museum staff, visiting artists, and guest curators.
Ultimately, we hope the College and the broader community have benefitted from the Museum’s presence. A museum serves many audiences. For the Wellin, that audience consists of three concentric rings: Hamilton College, the regional community, and the international art world. Whether we’re giving artists the opportunity to show their work in a major museum survey for the first time, providing an experience for Hamilton students to work alongside those artists, or facilitating direct engagement between exhibiting artists and curators and the community, we hope to build awareness of the significance of art to our everyday lives.