Museum Fellows Term
Bennington College launched the Museum Fellows Term in January 2015 with a pilot grant from the Mellon Foundation, and now runs this New York City-based program in partnership with the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation. The Museum Fellows Term is a five-month, study-away program that spans both Field Work and Spring Terms each year, providing students with an intensive, immersive experience and learning opportunity that is rarely available at the undergraduate level. The Museum Fellows Term 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
- Individual mentors 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 and Elizabeth Smith, executive director of the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, as well as with their museum supervisors. In addition, each Fellow is paired with a professional mentor outside of their institution, with whom they meet on a monthly basis, based on the students’ interests and goals.
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. As a group and individually, Fellows visit dozens of sites all around around New York City, experiencing exhibitions first hand 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.
Skills and Information
A five-month internship at a major museum 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. Museum partners to date have included the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Brooklyn Museum, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, the Jewish Museum, the Museum of the Moving Image, the New Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
For students who wish pursue careers in museums, 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 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, 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.
Applications for the 2020 program will be due in September 2019. Interested students should contact Liz White for more information.
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. The College wants all students who are accepted into the program to be able to participate.
Room and Board
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
Visit the Museum Fellows Program Facebook page.