Hilary Barnes Hoopes had a simple and sincere message for each of the 550-plus people who gathered in a large tent on the Colby Green for the Summer Luncheon 2023 in support and celebration of the Colby Museum of Art.
“Your presence here matters,” said Hoopes ’89, chair of the Museum Board of Governors. “By being here, you demonstrate that what this museum makes happen inside and outside of its buildings matters. The impact of this museum and the Lunder Institute for American Art is possible because of each of you in this tent.”
An annual tradition since the museum’s opening in 1959, the Summer Luncheon brings together an always-interesting mix of artists, educators, curators, collectors, volunteers, and dedicated museum friends. It has become, in the words of one artist who attended the event July 8, “the great gathering of the art tribe in Maine. In three hours, you get to see everybody you have been thinking about or hoping to see all at one time. It’s a chance to rekindle all those connections.”
Jacqueline Terrassa, the Carolyn Muzzy Director of the Colby College Museum of Art, spoke about the lasting importance of those connections and the relationship between people and place. At the Colby Museum, she said, “creativity and community have led the way from the beginning. … When we are in connection, that is when new ideas emerge and that is when new possibilities emerge.”
With its extraordinary collection of American art and the emergence of the Lunder Institute for American Art as a place for scholarship, creativity, and artistic ingenuity, the Colby Museum is in a unique position to promote, explore, and shape “a new understanding of the American experience, American identity, and American expression, which is not limited to the notion of a United States, but is really an active question: What is America, who makes America, and how does art get expressed and created in response to where we are, who we are, and where we come from? That is what we are trying to do at the Colby Museum.”
Colby President David A. Greene reaffirmed the College’s commitment to the arts, emphasizing his goal of keeping the arts and humanities at the core of Colby’s mission.
Prior to the luncheon, Terrassa hosted a conversation among Virgil Ortiz, Paula Wilson, and Daniel Minter, D.F.A. ’23. All are multimedia, interdisciplinary artists whose work is closely associated with a sense of community and place.
Raised in a family of Cochiti Pueblo potters, Ortiz blends his Pueblo culture with futuristic imagery and themes, provoking conversations about the relationship of the past, present, and future. He worked closely with the Colby Museum as exhibition designer for the newly opened Painted: Our Bodies, Hearts, and Village.
Wilson was born in Chicago and since 2007 has lived in Carrizozo, N.M., where she and her partner run an arts organization and artist residency program. A range of Wilson’s work is on view through July 31 in Ashley Bryan / Paula Wilson: Take the World into Your Arms at the Paul J. Schupf Art Center. She is a senior fellow at the Lunder Institute for American Art, the recipient of this year’s Alfonso Ossorio Creative Production Grant.
Minter is an illustrator, painter, and sculptor whose work often deals with the themes of displacement and diaspora. A past Lunder Institute visiting artist, he lives in Portland and is cofounder with his wife, Marcia Minter, D.F.A. ’23, of Indigo Arts Alliance, a creative space they created in 2019 for artists of African descent.
The artists spoke of the impact of place and community in their work. “We get a lot of support from each other when we are together. When we are isolated, we tend to lose our way,” Minter said. Wilson stressed the importance of being in the moment and thinking of art “not as the creation of an object but as a vehicle for being present.”
Ortiz said it was his hope and prayer “to attract the younger generation to Cochiti Pueblo pottery to ensure it does not die out. … I am thrilled that I am here to make sure the traditions do not die out.”
The Summer Luncheon was also a time of accolades. The museum recognized Shannon Haines, president and CEO of Waterville Creates, with the Jetté Award for Leadership in the Arts. Edith and Ellerton Jetté were early museum supporters, whose gift of art helped the museum become established.
Haines worked in partnership with Colby supporters and other partners to open the Paul J. Schupf Art Center in downtown Waterville this past December, and she has been part of the central Maine arts community for more than 20 years.
Elizabeth Finch, head curator of the Colby Museum and a member of the Waterville Creates board, described Haines as a consummate community partner. “Attending to community in partnership—working together—this is what you have modeled for us,” said Finch in her introduction. “Main Street can be synonymous with convention. Yours is not. It is capacious and it is welcoming, and you have never wavered in this focus.”
Haines said she was honored to accept the award and grateful that she made a place for the arts in her life in 2002. She had just moved back to Maine and was seeking connection when she volunteered for the newly established Maine International Film Festival in 2002. “I had no formal education in film or art, but I grew up going to Railroad Square Cinema, and I was excited to play a small role in supporting such a bold vision,” she said. “I immediately fell in love with the community that developed around MIFF, the exchange of ideas, the power of shared experiences in the arts.”
The inspiration and fulfillment she felt through her involvement in the festival set the course of her career “working with a diverse and wonderful range of partners to build a stronger, more connected community through the arts.”
The opening of the Paul J. Schupf Art Center, a vibrant hub of film, visual, and performing arts in the heart of downtown, “represents the culmination of years of collaboration, community support, and a shared vision to ensure that future generations have access to outstanding arts opportunities,” she said.
Fred Wilson, an interdisciplinary artist who is best known for challenging museums and viewers to address overlooked histories and entrenched racism within cultural institutions, received the Cummings Award for Artistic Excellence. It is named after Willard Cummings, cofounder of the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and an early champion of the Colby Museum of Art. The award celebrates distinguished artists who are dedicated to their creative practices and who have made a positive impact on people’s lives through advocacy and community-building.
Hoopes, a professor of graduate-level museum education programs at George Washington University, introduced Wilson and told the audience that attending Wilson’s first major institutional project, Mining the Museum at the Maryland Historical Society in 1992, helped set the course for her career.
Curating with that museum’s collection, Wilson questioned conventions of display and challenged ownership and privilege that are normalized by institutional practices. “By drawing attention to local histories of Blacks and Native Americans, Wilson unsettled the familiar museological narrative,” Hoopes said, adding that Wilson has collaborated with museums on numerous occasions “using interpretive strategies to unsettle methods of display in the telling of history and stories. … Fred Wilson deserves this recognition because his practices push the boundary of understanding and continually move us to think more critically.”
In brief remarks that followed thunderous applause, Wilson said it was a thrill and honor to receive an award from “an incredible museum with a long and open and unafraid history of challenging norms.”
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