Morgan Golliver, Assistant News Editor
After serving 16 years as Director of the Edith Langley Barrett Art Gallery, Carolynne Whitefeather retired last spring, leaving a tough spot for Associate Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences Jason Denman to fill.
“Carolynne’s retirement provided little lead time, which made the transition of finding a new director very challenging,” Denman said. “I chaired a committee to hire a replacement. The committee included myself, professors Specht, MacCarthy and Cittadino.”
Denman’s committee spent the summer reviewing applications when they were fortunate enough to find Megan Austin.
“Megan Austin’s application stood out big time as she had a wealth of leadership experience at Hamilton,” Denman said. “We were particularly interested in her aptitude for fundraising, as the gallery has always succeeded despite scarce resources, and we’d like to see it have a stronger financial foundation.”
Denman also added that he knew Austin prior to accepting her for the director’s position.
“Megan was my student in 2004, my first year on campus,” Denman said. “It’s exciting to see an ex-student not only succeed like this but return to her alma mater to help us move forward.”
Austin graduated from Utica College in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in English then went on to receive her master’s degree in Museum Studies from Syracuse University. Austin also worked at Hamilton College for ten years as the associate director at the Wellin Museum of Art, where she established the educational programming for the college and local community.
The UC alumna is looking forward to bringing her experience from Hamilton to direct the Barrett Art Gallery.
“I am excited to build a program from the ground up and to bring my years of experience to show that art is accessible for everyone, not just the ‘usual suspects: the students who already have an affinity for art,’” Austin said.
She started an education program at Hamilton College and sees the opportunity to do the same here at Utica College.
“I think there is an opportunity to include art in all the academic programs here at Utica,” Austin said. “By learning the skills of close-looking and object-based learning through art, UC students can develop their visual literacy skills to enhance their educational experience, as well as their life after college.”
There are currently five students, two returning and three new, working at the gallery.
“The students I employ come from a wide range of disciplines, some of whom have never taken an art course before,” Austin said. “But that’s a good thing because I’m more interested in what their academic experience can contribute to the work at the gallery and what skills they can develop through work in the arts that they can apply to their future careers. I look forward to getting more students involved as I settle into my new position at UC.”
Parth Bagul, a returning student, shared his experience of working at the Barrett Art Gallery.
“The main reason I started working in the art gallery was to communicate with as many people as possible,” Bagul said. “As I am an international student from India, I was lacking in communication because of the English language, but as I got into conversation with many people, it got better, and it boosted my confidence in communicating. Just after working one semester with the developed skills, I became an intern to the previous gallery director which taught me a lot about leadership and how to handle an art exhibit, from hanging the art to installing lights and setting the receptions.”
Parth’s true passion for art is through photography and he is really looking forward to the Utica Camera Club exhibit where he can look at the pictures for inspiration.
“The Barrett Art Gallery is a ‘hidden gem,’” Austin said. “We will increase our presence on campus and in the community through social media and outreach. I intend to bring in artwork that explores a range of ideas including social, political, technological and environmental to contribute to the academic dialogue on campus.”
The Utica Camera Club exhibition is currently on view in the Barrett Art Gallery, located in the Library Concourse, through Dec. 1.