Highlights from the 2018-2019 academic year.
Congratulations Class of 2019
Bennington College celebrated the achievements of the Class of 2019 at Commencement this year with the members of the acclaimed folk trio Mountain Man: Molly Erin Sarlé ’12, Amelia Meath ’10, and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig ’09. Michelle Cirillo ’19 was the Class Speaker and Sarah Harris was the faculty speaker. Under bluebird skies, we enjoyed the music of Mountain Man, celebrated with friends and family, and sent our graduates off in style. You can find Commencement pictures, speeches, and an overview of the impact of the Class of 2019.
The Board of Trustees appointed a Search Committee to oversee the process of identifying Bennington’s next president. As President Mariko Silver announced in April, she will become the president and CEO of the Henry Luce Foundation on August 1. Isabel Roche, currently Provost and Dean, will become the Interim President on July 1. Isabel recently spoke with WAMC about the College and its transitions.
The Board of Trustees elected Nick Stephens ’77 to succeed Alan Kornberg ’74 as Chair of the Board, effective July 1. Nick currently serves as Vice Chair and has been a dedicated member of the board since 2015. He serves on the board’s Budget and Finance and Investment Committees, and co-chairs the Campaign Design Committee. Alan will chair the Search Committee and will continue to serve as a board member.
As part of the transition, new structures in the Provost and Dean’s office will continue to support shared governance and pedagogical innovation. The emphasis, as always, will be on supporting the work of faculty and staff in providing a transformative education for our students. John Bullock, an inorganic chemist who has taught at Bennington since 2002, will take on the role of Acting Provost. Oceana Wilson, Dean of the Library, will take on the role of Acting Dean of the College. Political anthropologist Noah Coburn will become Associate Dean for Curriculum and Pedagogy, a new position.
We are in the final stages of a historic renovation of Commons, the most ambitious renewal project ever undertaken at Bennington College. With a more permeable and flexible design, the renovated building will facilitate the academic, social, and cultural experience that makes Bennington so unique, creating dozens of new spaces for study and community. Commons formally opens this fall, and Alumni joining us for Reunion Weekend in September (the 27th through the 29th) will get a first-hand look at the new space.
On Tuesday, April 30, a fire broke out in the Barn, a central and historic building on the Bennington College campus. No faculty, staff, or students were hurt and the building was saved thanks to the heroic efforts of firefighters and first-responders from various surrounding towns, including some from our own faculty and staff. As we enter the restoration and reimagination phase for the new Barn, your feedback and financial support for the future of this important space are deeply appreciated.
When the newly renovated historic Commons reopens, dining services will move from its temporary home in the Student Center back into Commons. The Student Center, which underwent a renovation of its own in order to successfully function as an interim dining hall, is now poised to be recreated and reimagined once again.
Over the Fall 2018 term, thirteen students in a course entitled (Re)Center: Reimagining a New Student Center, taught by Associate Vice President for Facilities Management and Planning Andrew Schlatter and architecture faculty member Donald Sherefkin, took on the challenge of redesigning the Student Center, culminating in a public presentation of the class’s cohesive plan for a newly envisioned space.
Information technology is getting an upgrade across campus as well. We have begun major network infrastructure changes throughout Bennington buildings, improving the reliability, speed and security of the network and enhancing teaching and business functions. Additionally, thanks to the generosity of donor Henry and Kathleen Chalfant P ’94, Tishman auditorium now enjoys significantly improved audio, projection quality, and overall usability and experience in the room.
Partnerships and Programs
Bennington’s Art for Access initiative, which was launched in September, has yielded more than $3.1 million to establish an inaugural scholarship fund, which will provide financial aid for talented students who otherwise would not be able to afford a Bennington education. Art for Access has two goals: to provide funding for student scholarships; and to develop and expand the works of art in the College’s holdings to be used for teaching and enrichment. In keeping with the second goal, the soon-to-be-opened Commons building will display on all three floors art gifts made to the Art for Access program as well as notable works from the College’s holdings. The works on view will include generous gifts from alumni, parents and trustees. We will also feature on the third floor works by Helen Frankenthaler ’50, on loan from the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation.
Bennington College has been awarded a grant of $1 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to launch a three-year collaborative effort with local partners to address the systemic causes of food insecurity in Bennington County. This collaboration aims to both address the pressing problem of food insecurity in the area and to develop an interdisciplinary and responsive humanities curriculum with students, faculty, and the community, creating a model from which other higher education institutions can learn and build.
Beginning in the summer of 2020, Bennington College will host several of the Middlebury Language Schools on campus. The partnership with Middlebury College is a mutually-beneficial opportunity for the world-renowned language schools to serve their students and for Bennington to welcome more people to our campus and the region during the summer.
Poetry at Bennington, a program of short-term residencies that brings established and emerging poets to the College for public readings and close work with students, has been endowed with a gift of $4 million from longstanding donors to the College. Established in 2012, Poetry at Bennington has brought more than 50 poets to campus, including Poets Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winners, along with a diverse range of emerging and established poets.
In the service of building community, the Office of Diversity & Inclusion had extensive reach this year under the leadership of new vice president Delia Saenz. Bennington students benefited from an educational series that addressed topics such as social identity and silenced voices, along with a ‘Class Action’ workshop that was sponsored by students from FLoW and Resource Generation. Additionally, Bennington faculty and staff availed themselves to professional training on topics such as inclusive pedagogy and microaggressions, and events that included a retrospective exhibition on the Black Music Division and “Black French Matters.”
The World Needs More Bennington
Thanks to the continued generosity of the Bennington family, we have raised $92 million in cash gifts and multi-year commitments as of May 2019 for our The World Needs More Bennington campaign. That includes $59 million for current use and campus renewal projects, with the remaining $33 million earmarked for the College’s endowment. This brings the total endowment, including all documented pledges, to $51 million (up from $17 million in 2013). Bennington is strong and sustainable today because of the selfless gifts of time, money, and resources bestowed on the College by the community, including successful campaign events in multiple cities this spring.
Alumni also came together in New York at the Lucille Lortel Theatre for another installment of the collaborative effort The 24 Hour Plays®, which benefit both the Nicky Martin Performing Arts Scholarship and the Spencer Cox ’90 FWT Fellowship for Student Activists. In total, the Bennington community has raised nearly $165,000 for both scholarships to support the next generation of artists and activists.
Work in the World
During this year’s Field Work Term, Bennington students interned at Christie’s, sculpted a T. rex femur, promoted college access, built intergenerational connections, made ceramics to celebrate the Deaf community, led community library programs focused self-care, were mentored by alumni, and much more. For a behind-the-scenes look at Bennington students at work, see the 2019 Field Work Term photo contest winners.
As part of the College’s ongoing efforts to broaden work opportunities and fully integrate those experiences into each student’s academic growth, Bennington is expanding partnerships to support fully-funded field work terms. This includes the continuation of the Lucille Lortel Foundation Fellowship in Theatre, the expansion of the Newman Fellowship in Global Public Action, the launch of the Arts and Technology Fellowship, and prospective new fellowships in the Visual Arts, Education, and Healthcare.
Additionally, while students' experiences over Field Work Term are integrated with their academics, we realized that there was more we could do to align on-campus jobs. To further support access to and learning through work, Campus Employment has moved to the Career Development and Field Work Term Office, where Ray Stevens ’15 has led a full overhaul of policies and procedures related to work on campus. Such efforts have resulted in a 12% increase student access to work; a 100% success rate of placing first years in jobs by week one; and a 98% involvement rate of campus supervisors in evaluating students’ campus work. Faith McClellan, director of Career Development and Field Work Term, wrote in the Career Leadership Collective about the value on-campus jobs can provide -- in addition to getting paid -- such as enhancing learning, strengthening career ecosystems, and more.
Broadening our Reach
The Robert Frost Stone House Museum, which welcomed more than 3,000 visitors and students in its inaugural 2018-2019 season, recently reopened for its second season under Bennington College’s stewardship and appointed Erin McKenny as its new director. This season’s offerings and future plans include art exhibitions, poetry workshops, concerts, and an upcoming poetry trail, and more.
Beyond Plastics, a project based at CAPA, had a busy semester empowering students to become leaders in the fight against plastic pollution. Bennington students had letters to the editor published on the topic in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Rutland Herald, Bennington Banner, and numerous other newspapers. Students also testified at the Vermont Statehouse in support of critical legislation, and helped plan and promote plastics pollution educational forum at Pace University before more than 250 people. Their work to educate mainstream media organizations, advance legislative efforts, and rally support across higher education will continue throughout the summer and into Fall term.
This spring CAPA’s spring conference on The Role and Future of the Liberal Arts in Prison Education brought prison education experts, providers, and funders to campus for a keynote address by Daniel Karpowitz, senior advisor to the governor of Minnesota, and three panel discussions based on the mission, opportunities, and trajectories for liberal arts college programs in prisons.
CAPA/Bennington College's collaboration with the Institute for Environmental Diplomacy and Security at University of Vermont has resulted in TWIN: Transboundary Water In-Cooperation Network. The group is currently working on three transboundary conflicts: the Kabul River between Afghanistan and Pakistan; the Kali River between India and Nepal; and the Jordan River between Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.
In Fall 2019, Kenneth Bailey, co-founder for Boston-based Design Studio for Social Intervention, and media artist Marina Zurkow, who is focused on near-impossible nature and culture intersections, will pursue their MFAs in Public Action. The program recently concluded its first year with two exceptional candidates, sculptor Caroline Woolard and theatre activist Aaron Landsman, both of whose creative work focuses on building community coalitions and addressing gentrification and affordable housing.
Bennington College’s MFA in Dance will welcome two new candidates in Fall 2019: Molly Lieber, a Brooklyn-based dancer and choreographer whose feminist experimental work responding to sexual trauma is developed in collaboration with Eleanor Smith, and Mina Nishimura, a dance artist from Tokyo whose practice focuses on ever-changing relationships between internal landscapes and external forms.
This academic year, Usdan Gallery featured an exhibition of sculpture and painting by renowned artist Torkwase Dyson, who uses the language of abstraction to foreground issues of social and environmental justice. Hyperallergic selected Scalar, A Solo Exhibition by Torkwase Dyson, as one of the Top 20 Exhibitions Across the United States.
To fund student projects that respond to gallery exhibitions, Bennington also launched the Usdan Gallery Student Programming Fellowships. Projects awarded for the Dyson exhibit included a film festival, a gospel choir performance, and production of an exhibition catalog. The Dyson show was part of the acclaimed For Freedoms/50 States nationwide network of arts initiatives ahead of the midterm elections. Spring exhibitions included “The Body Stops Here,” sculptures by Keiko Narahashi and Sarah Peters, and an installation of videos and hand-built boats by Marie Lorenz. Lorenz spoke with the Manchester Journal about her work.
Upcoming exhibitions next fall include Katarina Burin: The work of Petra Andrejova-Molnár and Her Contemporaries and Queer Paranormal, an exhibition responding to novelist Shirley Jackson and The Haunting of Hill House. Sign up to receive updates about upcoming exhibitions and dates from Usdan Gallery.
Bennington Writing Seminars
June 2019 marks the 25th Anniversary of the Bennington Writing Seminars, which will be celebrated with an Alumni Reunion during the residency. Sarai Walker MFA '03, author of the bestselling novel and critically-acclaimed AMC series Dietland, was the Commencement speaker for the Bennington Writing Seminars in June 2019. The prominence of the Bennington Writing Seminars continues to grow. In June 2019, 32 new students—equal to the largest class the program has ever had—were admitted.
The program awarded its fourth PEN Emerging Voices Fellow scholarship to Natalie Mislang Mann in nonfiction. This $10,000 scholarship was originally funded by the January Class of 2017 and was continued by the June Class of 2018. Thanks to the best fundraising year to date, the Bennington Writing Seminars awarded $81,000 in scholarships for June 2019.
Punching above our weight: Awards, honors, and publications
Brooks Ashmanskas ’91 was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical for The Prom. Lifeboat, executive produced by Bryn Mooser ’01, was nominated for an Academy Award for Documentary (Short Subject). Faculty member Jennifer Rohn won the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Actress, Small or Fringe Theater, for her performance in the play Dark Room. Jackie Sibblies Drury, who was a visiting faculty member during Spring 2017, won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for her play Fairview. Alan Arkin ’55 was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for his work on The Kominsky Method.
A group of Bennington collaborators led by Asad J. Malik ’19 headed to Sundance Film Festival New Frontiers with A Jester’s Tale, a pioneering project poised to test the waters of a new storytelling medium. Esperpento, featuring Modesto Flako Jimenez '06, is also included in the New Frontiers lineup. Imaginary Order, a film by Debra Eisenstadt '91, made its premiere in the U.S. Dramatic Competition.
Bruna Dantas Lobato ’15 received a 2019 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant for her translation from the Portuguese of Moldy Strawberries: Stories by Caio Fernando Abreu. Faculty member Anna Maria Hong won Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award for Age of Glass; Hong’s poem “Maiden" received an honorable mention for the PSA's Lyric Poetry Award. Mark Wunderlich, director of Bennington Writing Seminars, was named Chair of the National Book Foundation’s National Book Award poetry panel of judges. The New York Times honored the work of Phillip B. Williams and Poetry at Bennington and Bennington Review writers Jericho Brown and Shane McCrae. Michael Dumanis was the finalist for the Lyric Poetry Award for his poem "The Empire of Light." Dumanis was also a finalist for the PSA's Lucille Medwick Memorial Award. Bennington Writing Seminars faculty member Carmen Giménez Smith was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for Poetry.
Cape Verdean Blues by Shauna Barbosa MFA ’17 is a finalist for the PEN Open Book Award, honoring an exceptional book-length work of any genre by an author of color. Bennington Writing Seminars faculty member Amy Hempel published her latest short story collection, Sing to It, and discussed her favorite reads with The Boston Globe. Summer Brennan ’01 published her latest book Object Lessons: High Heels.
Faculty member Aysha Peltz was a demonstrating artist at Claytopia, hosted by the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA), which is led by Executive Director Joshua Green ’81. Molly Fleiner-Etheridge ’19 assisted Peltz during her demonstration. Artists Sarah Fetterman ’14 and Nicole Czapinski ’06 returned to Bennington’s campus for a residency supported by the Woodbury Foundation.
Ze’evi Berman ‘14 was chosen for the prestigious Summer Human Rights Fellowship sponsored by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.
Bennington alumni host and produce a number of popular podcasts, including Phoebe Judge ’05 at Criminal, Nigel Poor ’86 at Ear Hustle, and Jason Moon ’13 at Bear Brook. After the Bear Brook podcast launched, Moon heard from a Connecticut researcher and librarian named Becky Heath, who believed she may have discovered the identities of some of the Bear Brook victims. Heath said listening to the podcast helped her rediscover an old lead she'd set aside years earlier.
Bennington College students studying Languages now have the opportunity to apply their studies in the broader Bennington community by teaching languages and cultures—including Chinese, French, Japanese, and Spanish—at Bennington Elementary and the Village School of North Bennington.
Numerous works by Bennington College community members were featured in the Bennington Museum's exhibition Works on Paper: A Decade of Collecting, which highlighted a disparate body of works, from historic to contemporary and self-taught works, to creations by Bennington Modernists.
Faculty member Debbie Warnock and Kelsey Broadfield '20 discussed Student to Student, a new first-gen college mentoring program with Mount Anthony Union High School, supported by a $3,000 grant from the Vermont Community Foundation’s Opportunity Fund for Southshire Youth.
Mrunal Khadke ’22, Xuan Le ’22, Albert Aleksanyan ’22, Anh Mai Ly ’22, and Kevin Munoz ’22 worked locally with older adults at Bennington Project Independence during Field Work Term.
Bennington College students Isabella Adler ’20 and Phoenix Manlanga ’22 collaborated with Village School of North Bennington students to create sculptures that explore themes of water, landscape, and music for the North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show, which will open June 29.
Madeline Poultridge '20, Hadley Pack '22, Annabel Hoffman '22, Lola Wilson-Kolp '22, and Ella Stewart '22 have been volunteering with Vermont Arts Exchange TLC Dolls program to create handmade fabric comfort dolls that are donated to Project Against Violent Encounters (PAVE), which distributes them to survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault.
Students in Mirka Prazak's Fall 2018 course Studying Place by Metes and Bounds were published in a special issue of the Bennington Museum's Walloomsack Review. Bennington: View from Bingham Hill, is a collection of essays that utilize a variety of research methods for the purpose of collecting data about Bennington and describing the environmental and socio-political-economic concerns of the town, and by extension, of post-industrial life in the northeastern United States.