The Big Idea

Art for Access

Red Square painting by Helen Frankenthaler

The College launches a dynamic new program to enrich and expand art on campus—and access to a Bennington education

In 1946, a young Helen Frankenthaler ’49 came to Bennington. During the next several years, she found guidance from faculty member Paul Feeley and others and an inspiration that helped fuel her work long after her time on campus. Now, thanks in part to Frankenthaler’s legacy in the arts and a newly launched program called Art for Access, more students will be given the opportunity to find inspiration at Bennington.

Art for Access is a philanthropic initiative with two aims. First, the program seeks to further develop and expand the works of art in the College’s teaching holdings, ensuring that the art for study and enrichment at Bennington will be regularly refreshed over time. And second, through the sale of selected works at regular intervals, the program is designed to provide scholarship funds for students who otherwise would not be able to afford a Bennington education. Art for Access aims to engage Bennington’s remarkable network of collectors, artists, alumni, parents, and friends for the benefit of students both present and future.

“Since the College’s beginning, gifts of art have enriched the campus and the broader Bennington community both in the classroom and in the lived experience,” said Paige Bartels, senior vice president for Strategic Partnerships, who oversees this new initiative. “We are now using these gifts to also advance the College’s commitment to access, equity, and diversity.”

Increasing access to Bennington was the principal goal for the College in establishing the program. “One of the most important things about this program is not just creating access to educational opportunity for our students, but also creating access to networks,” Bartels said. Bennington looked to the examples of individual collectors who have sold their art to significantly advance other causes—to Agnes Gund, for example, who sold Roy Lichtenstein’s Masterpiece to launch Art for Justice last year. Bennington’s long legacy and commitment to the visual arts make it uniquely positioned as an institution to fundraise in this way. Art for Access acknowledges and celebrates that legacy.

Diego Rivera painting of Communeros de Pais
Diego Rivera (1886–1957); Communards (Comuna de Paris)

“There are many ways to think about art and the value it brings to the world,” President Mariko Silver said. “One powerful way is by using art to support goals, principles, and values that relate to the arts, or that uphold the principles and aims of the collectors—or institutions—themselves.” Five paintings from the College’s holdings—all contributed without restriction years ago—were selected to launch the program and were sold this past fall with Christie’s. The works were Red Square by Helen Frankenthaler, Communards by Diego Rivera, La Moisson by Julien Dupré, Arondite by Norman Bluhm, and Untitled by Georges Mathieu. The launch was a success: through these sales, the College raised more than $3.1 million for Art for Access scholarships. “Very few colleges could undertake such an effort as this, and it is a testament to Bennington’s history of bringing extraordinary art to the world,” said President Silver.

Very few colleges could undertake such an effort as this, and it is a testament to Bennington’s history of bringing extraordinary art to the world.

The most notable among the works sold is Helen Frankenthaler’s Red Square, a large-scale, 88 x 126¼-inch painting from 1959. She included it in her first retrospective at the Jewish Museum in New York in 1960 and later that year donated it to the College, where until recently it hung in the President’s Office. By all accounts, Frankenthaler’s time at Bennington had an enormous impact on her work. A longtime supporter of the College and former trustee, she made investments in scholarships and the visual arts program through gifts of art and donations; that support continues through the College’s current relationship with the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation. Her giving began almost immediately after graduating, when Frankenthaler organized the exhibition ‘’Bennington College Alumnae Paintings’’ at the Jacques Seligmann Gallery in Manhattan. “It’s well known that Helen’s career had its beginning at Bennington,” said Michael Hecht, who is on the board of the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation and is also a trustee of Bennington College. “Throughout her life she spoke about Bennington and how important an influence it was on her.” Frankenthaler exemplifies a tradition of alumni artists giving back to current students—paying forward the creative dividend across generations.

An Art for Access Committee of alumni, parents, friends, and faculty members from all backgrounds—artists, collectors, curators, and auction house veterans—will guide the program and seek gifts of art. The committee is co-chaired by two trustees, Michael Hecht and Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan ’91 (see sidebar for full committee). The effort is already attracting new gifts of art to the College from donors who are inspired by the dual mission of the effort.

Julien Dupré painting of La Moisson, 1887
JULIEN DUPRÉ (1851–1910); La moisson; signed and dated “Julien Dupré. 1887”; oil on canvas; 21 x 25 in., 1887

New works, as with other art in the College holdings, will be placed on view throughout campus—in offices and public spaces, as well as in rotating exhibitions—and, of course, used for teaching. The artwork on view will be changing and dynamic, in keeping with the Bennington tradition. When Helen Frankenthaler donated Red Square to Bennington in 1960, she intended for it to one day be sold for financial gain. To see that come to fruition, and to see Bennington drawing on its everexpanding and vibrant network, is something that Frankenthaler would endorse. “I believe Helen would be very much in favor of Art for Access,” Hecht said. “Helen was devoted to education, and students were very important to her. I know that she would be delighted that Red Square was going out into the world to launch this effort.”



Michael Hecht (co-chair)
Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan ’91 (co-chair)
Barbara Ushkow Deane ’51
Liz Deschenes
Andrea Fiuczynski ’85
Anna Gaskell ’92
Harold Koda
Lise Motherwell ’77
Will Ransom ’04
Ellen Safir ’66
Lincoln Schatz ’86