Museum Fellows Term
Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view. Photo credit: Liz White.
Launched in 2015 with a pilot grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and now run in partnership with the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, the Museum Fellows Term is a five-month, study-away program that spans Field Work Term and Spring Term, providing students with an intensive, immersive learning opportunity that is rarely available at the undergraduate level. The program includes:
- Practical, professional internship experience working at a major cultural institution in New York City for five months
- A supportive, small co-learning community facilitated by Bennington faculty
- 360-degree view of the art world through readings, site visits, and interviews
- Connection with cultural leaders, makers, and influencers in diverse fields of expertise
- Mentorship and self-directed customization in accordance with students’ areas of interest
Mentoring and Growth
The Museum Fellows Term offers the advantages of study-away learning coupled with the small community, individual attention, and pedagogy of self-directed inquiry that students experience on campus. While in New York, Fellows work closely with program director Liz White, as well as program faculty and internship supervisors. In 2022 the program faculty includes Sergio Bessa, Chief Curator Emeritus at the Bronx Museum, Joy Bivins, Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and Elizabeth Smith, Executive Director of the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation.
Experiential Learning and Connections
Bennington’s extraordinary network in the arts provides Fellows with access to art world leaders and professionals in diverse fields of expertise, offering learning opportunities as well professional connections. Fellows visit dozens of sites all around New York City, experiencing exhibitions firsthand and building familiarity with a broad range of creative practitioners, communities, and organizations including: museums, auction houses, commercial and nonprofit galleries, foundations, artists’ studios, performances, and public spaces. In addition to group site visits, each Fellow is matched with professionals outside of their internship institution for informational interviews related to their specific interests and goals.
Skills and Information
A five-month internship at a major cultural institution provides an opportunity to gain significant experience in a highly competitive and largely opaque field. As they complete their day-to-day work and shadow supervisors, Fellows also conduct informational interviews with staff outside their immediate departments, and throughout the program are exposed to a diverse range of institutions and roles, offering an expanded sense of future possibilities, and new perspective on how they might direct their studies and ambitions. Internship partners to date have included the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Brooklyn Museum, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, Dia Art Foundation, the Jewish Museum, the Museum of the Moving Image, the New Museum, the Rubin Museum of Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, as well as the Al Held Foundation, and the Helen Frankenthaler Catalogue Raisonné project.
For students who wish to pursue careers in museums and arts administration, these internships offer an essential first step, and for all students they provide valuable exposure to institutional cultures and cultivate transferable professional skills, including maturity, ambition, initiative, self-reliance, and the ability to communicate, collaborate, and build meaningful relationships. Whatever they choose as a next step, Fellows leave the program able to envision themselves as potential agents of influence, actively producing and shaping culture.
Courses and Community
In addition to their internships, Fellows meet as a cohort at the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation for three faculty-led courses:
- Historical Perspectives, which examines the forces and individuals that have shaped the evolution of museums and other art institutions
- Contemporary Art Contexts, which focuses on contemporary art exhibitions and the institutions/organizations that support and present the work, and
- Research Colloquium, a framework providing practical support and critical contextual information in which students read about multiple aspects of the art world, and reflect on, and learn from each other’s experiences within different institutions and departments.
Context and Critical Thinking
Just as Bennington asks its students to understand themselves as individuals within a larger context, the Museum Fellows Term supports the study of art not only as a form of individual expression, but as work that participates in larger social structures. Through the interwoven elements of the program, Fellows are encouraged to think critically about art and its institutions and to engage with the complexity of diverse perspectives. Fellows become both participants in and observers of the art ecosystems of New York, making connections across multiple forms of experience and gaining confidence, skills, and the ability to construct meaningful inquiries both inside and outside of the classroom.
Eligibility and Application
The program is designed for any and all students who are interested in understanding how culture is made and shaped. While many previous Fellows list visual arts and art history as primary areas of study, the program benefits students with a wide variety of interests and goals. Recent Fellows have also had Plans related to performing arts, film, social sciences, languages, literature, cultural studies, philosophy, writing, entrepreneurship, and public action.
Frankenthaler Fellows are generally accepted for participation in the spring of their junior year at Bennington; other circumstances may be considered on a case by case basis. Successful applicants are expected to have an excellent academic record, and to have a demonstrated interest in art history, cultural studies, curatorial practice, arts and culture management/ leadership, art education, community outreach, museums, galleries, art and culture organizations, or related cultural work. Maturity, responsibility, independence, and professionalism are essential.
Interested students are encouraged to complete this brief form to be added to the program mailing list, and to discuss their interest with their advisors and plan committees as soon as possible. Applications for the 2023 program are due September 11, 2022, and an information session will be held over Zoom on Monday, September 5, at 4:30pm. Note that applications require a cover letter, resume, and writing sample, in addition to the online form, and students are required to meet with the FWT office to review their materials before submitting. The financial aid application for the program is due September 12. For more information, please contact Liz White.
Cost and Logistics
Tuition and Financial Aid
Students enrolled in the Museum Fellows Term program pay their regular Bennington tuition, plus a $1,500 program fee. Financial aid packages will continue to apply and students may be eligible for additional assistance.
Bennington will review all financial aid applications received, giving funding priority to those students with demonstrated need, and making best efforts to provide financial aid packages that enable all accepted students to participate. Students should anticipate that the family contribution will remain the same as with previous semesters. Outstanding balances should be resolved before student eligibility can be reviewed for any additional aid for program related expenditures. Supplemental MFT aid will only be awarded to cover additional costs of participating in the program. As with other financial aid decisions, all sources of income, including earnings from paid internships, are considered in the financial aid decision.
Estimated expenses for the 2023 Museum Fellows Term program are detailed here.
Students may apply for financial aid for the Museum Fellows Term program by submitting an application to the Office of Financial Aid.
Room and Board
Students enrolled in the program will not pay Bennington Room and Board, but are responsible for the cost of program housing.
Students with demonstrated financial need may be eligible for assistance with housing and meal costs.
Living and commuting as a group adds to the program experience and we encourage all students to live in program housing. Students who have family in New York or wish to pursue other arrangements may be permitted to do so within certain criteria, however please note that financial assistance with housing is only available for students living in program housing, and students opting out of program housing will be asked to sign a waiver assuming full responsibility.
Students are responsible for paying their own travel expenses to and from New York.
Students with demonstrated financial need may be eligible for assistance to cover the cost of a monthly MetroCard (which allows transportation on subways and public busses).
Staff ID cards from host institutions will allow free access to almost all museums.
Additional Program Expenses
About the Director
Elizabeth White is an artist whose work ranges in form from photography to digital collage, installation, drawing, and social practice. Informed by a background in sociology and media studies as well as visual arts, she is interested in the social impact of photography and related technologies and the politics of visual culture. She has been teaching at Bennington since 2011, and since 2015 has served as the founding director of the Museum Fellows Term program.
Joy Bivins is Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Previously, she was chief curator of the International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina and the director of Curatorial Affairs at the Chicago History Museum. Photo credit: Jonathan Blanc/ NYPL
Antonio Sergio Bessa
Antonio Sergio Bessa is chief curator emeritus at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. A scholar of concrete poetry, Bessa has organized several critically acclaimed exhibitions on themes related to text-based art, and has published essays on concrete poetry. Photo credit: Elizabeth White
Elizabeth Smith is Executive Director of the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation. Previously, she was Executive Director, Curatorial Affairs, at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto; Chief Curator and Deputy Director of Programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Photo credit: Scott Rudd