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July 22, 2019

Q&A: Director of a growing museum

Sharon Corwin was named Carolyn Muzzy Director and chief curator of the Colby College Museum of Art in 2006, and oversees nearly 8,000 works in 38,000 square feet of exhibition space, with a collection that specializes in American and contemporary art.

Photo / Courtesy of Colby College Museum of Art
Sharon Corwin was named Carolyn Muzzy Director and chief curator of the Colby College Museum of Art in 2006. She oversees 8,000 works, with a collection that specializes in American and contemporary art.

Colby College Museum of Art was founded in 1959. Its Lunder Collection, donated by Peter and Paula Lunder, includes 500 works of American art from the 19th to the 21st centuries, including works by James McNeill Whistler, Winslow Homer, Georgia O’Keefe, Kiki Smith, Alexander Calder, Donald Judd, Deborah Butterfield, John Chamberlain and Maya Lin. Mainebiz caught up with her to talk about the museum and its role.

Mainebiz: Colby’s art museum is the biggest in the state. What does it mean for a college to have an art museum that has such a big role?

Sharon Corwin: The Colby College Museum of Art serves multiple audiences. As an academic museum, we work closely with Colby students and faculty across disciplines — environmental studies and economics classes are just two of the more than 100 courses that engage with our exhibitions and collections each year. At the same time, the museum presents dynamic exhibitions and public programs that are free and open to all, and we fund visits from about 4,000 school children annually from all around the state. In this way, the museum connects visitors to Colby, Waterville and Maine. We embrace both roles and consider them mutually strengthening.

MB: What’s involved in getting an art collection or large financial donation for the museum?

SC: It is a pleasure to talk with people about how they can contribute to advancing the Colby Museum’s mission. When people see the impact we make in our communities, they want to be part of that. The museum’s collection has doubled in the past decade. When I talk with potential donors about giving art to the museum, they see the ways in which the collection is presented and used. These gifts make a big difference in advancing our mission, and everyone benefits.

MB: How does the museum walk the line between being a business and a nonprofit?

SC: Businesses typically measure their success by their profit margins. We see our role differently. Access to the museum is always free to the public — there is no financial motive for us. Our version of profit is enriching the understanding and appreciation of art and what it can reveal about human understanding and what it can do to bring joy and beauty to the world.

MB: What’s the museum’s connection with Colby’s planned contemporary art museum in the new downtown arts center and why is the new museum important?

SC: We are thrilled to be a playing a major role in the revitalization of Waterville through arts and culture. The Colby Museum is already a destination for Maine residents and visitors to the state, and the planned contemporary art gallery in the Paul J. Schupf Art Center will expand our reach into downtown, creating a new front door to the museum that will deepen our connections in the community and help support our growing creative economy.

MB: Aside from the new museum, where do you see Colby’s focus on art expanding?

SC: Colby has made the arts a central part of the educational experience. Architect William Rawn, who designed Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood [in Lenox, Mass.], is designing a new center for creative and performing arts campus. This state-of-the-art facility will include spaces for theater, dance, and film and further expand the arts ecosystem at Colby and in Waterville. We envision a near future where the arts serve as a defining feature of Colby and bring audiences from around the world to Waterville.

MB: What is the best thing about having a job like yours in Maine?

SC: The collegiality. I have such warm and supportive relationships with arts leaders throughout the state. We think of Maine as one big museum and work together to present a vibrant and diverse arts program. The visual arts have such a strong legacy here, and it is a pleasure to contribute to Maine’s identity as a great place to experience art.

MB: What is the best thing about your job?

SC: I come to work every day knowing that art can make a difference in people’s lives. It can change the way people perceive the world; it can inspire though beauty and wonder; and it can introduce cultures and stories we might not have previously known. I love that I get to play a role in connecting people with art through the Colby Museum.

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August 15, 2019
It is nice for someone to express so well how important art can be for the general public, and how enriching it can be.
August 13, 2019

Great article on terrific Sharon Corwin

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