Image courtesy of the MWPAI.
Image courtesy of the MWPAI.

Introducing the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute

Since its inauguration in 2010, the Decorative Arts Trust’s Curatorial Internship Program has served a dual purpose: to help young professionals gain a foothold in small and mid-sized museums, and to help these institutions gain a valuable and enthusiastic employee they would otherwise be unable to hire. In addition to helping in the daily tasks of running a museum, projects undertaken by these interns help these institutions develop a stronger relationship with the local community. When the Trust’s interview with Brock Jobe and Sarah Parks, the program’s originator and first intern, respectively, was recorded the Trust had not yet selected the 2015-2017 recipient for the newly-expanded grant. The Trust’s Education Committee unanimously selected the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute this past spring. The search for the intern remains ongoing, but we eagerly await the results!

For a small museum, the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute (MWPAI for short… or at least shorter) of Utica, New York, has a lot going for it. To begin with, it possesses a phenomenal collection of 19th-century American decorative arts, a subject dear to the hearts of many Trust members, but also a diverse holding of fine arts, including contemporary works. Past exhibits have ranged from 20th-century American watercolors to historic watches and timepieces to European Modernism. Particularly popular exhibits are put on tour for the world to enjoy.

The MWPAI is not an institution to rest on its laurels, however. When I spoke to Anna D’Ambrosio, the longtime decorative arts curator and current museum director, she was fresh off of attending New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “Capitol for a Day” program. Later that evening, members and community participants were gathering in the auditorium for a screening of the film “A Borrowed Identity,” part of the diverse programming options that range from theater performances to yoga in the galleries.

Image courtesy of the MWPAI.
Image courtesy of the MWPAI.

Ms. D’Ambrosio pointed out that the MWPAI is a tripartite institution, encompassing the museum, a performing arts program, and the Pratt/MWP College of Art and Design, which shares the museum campus. As such, the museum finds itself at the hub of Utica’s artistic life, regularly pulling in 20,000 visitors for its summer exhibitions alone, a figure they expect to increase in the near future following Governor Cuomo’s announcement of the arrival of several thousand nanotechnology jobs into the area. More than 50 percent of the museum’s visitors are from the region, drawn by free access and the impressive variety of programming. With the arrival of Bosnian immigrants in the 1990s, the city has also harbored a diverse and fluctuating population of refugees. Ms. D’Ambrosio particularly hopes to make the collection accessible, welcoming, and relevant to these newest members of the community.

Attributed to John and Hugh Finlay (active 1800-37), Baltimore, MD, Side Chair, ca. 1820-30. Image courtesy of the MWPAI.
Attributed to John and Hugh Finlay (active 1800-37), Baltimore, MD, Side Chair, ca. 1820-30. Image courtesy of the MWPAI.

The Decorative Arts Trust intern will play an important role in making these goals become reality. There will be scholarly opportunities, particularly research for two upcoming exhibitions: the art, culture, and material life of New York City during the 1920s; and American silver plate. Much of the work, however, will be hands on. The intern will have oversight of the museum’s four 19th-century period rooms in Fountain Elms, the 19th-century home of the museum’s founding Williams family, and will regularly change the displays to aid thematic school group tours. During the reinstallation of MWPAI’s 19th-century fine art galleries, the intern will help incorporate examples of the decorative arts for a more comprehensive visitor experience. College of Art and Design students will also rely on the intern to coordinate their access to the decorative arts collection, particularly the jewelry and metalworking students who look to historic examples to inspire their own work.

Despite their smaller size, institutions such as the MWPAI play a vital role in building solidarity through a shared appreciation for art, culture, and history. Matthew Thurlow, Executive Director of the Decorative Arts Trust, said the internship at MWPAI will provide “an aspiring museum curator with an extraordinary opportunity to gain valuable experience while serving the museum’s meaningful efforts to promote its collection and programs throughout upstate New York.” We wish our colleagues at the Munson-Williams-Proctor all the best during the search process. The full job description can be found here, and we look forward to sharing updates on the projects undertaken by the future curatorial intern!

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