Kathleen Stimpert

Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

The Blanton Museum of Art announced Thursday the creation of its National Leadership Board, which will replace the role of its Museum Council in providing feedback to the on-campus museum.

Kathleen Stimpert, Blanton director of public relations and marketing, said, while members of the Blanton’s Museum Council were primarily from Texas, supporters of the National Leadership Board range from places such as California, New York and the Midwest. In expanding the board, Stimpert said it will now be comprised of noted collectors, philanthropists and business leaders from around the country. 

“The group will serve as ambassadors for the Blanton,” Stimpert said. “[They will help] us expand our reach and national profile and will provide feedback to museum leadership to support various initiatives and priorities.”

Development director Karen Sumner said the board is rounded out with alumni and friends of the University. Along with expanding the museum’s national recognition, Sumner said she hopes to see a rise in the museum’s international profile. 

According to Stimpert, Sumner and museum director Simone Wicha began the process of the expansion, and as they moved along in the process, they gained support from board chair Michael Klein and President William Powers Jr.

Klein said he believes the expanded board will help the Blanton gain national recognition. 

“By moving out of an advisory council and moving to a national board, we [aim] to be taken more seriously,” Klein said. “The Blanton is primed and ready to be one of the most significant university art museums in the country. At this point, it will take the right board to advance this goal.”

Sumner said the members will go through the museum with curators and educators during the board’s inaugural weekend Nov. 6-9. The Blanton will also hold a free public lecture Nov. 7 by renowned international artist Doris Salcedo.

Editor's note: This article has been updated from its original version. 

Chris Jackson admires The Calvary Scrap by Frederic Remington, a painting that captures horses at full speed in a quintessential depiction of the American Old West. The piece is part of a new exhibition by the Blanton Museum of Art that will run until late September.

Photo Credit: Andreina Velazquez | Daily Texan Staff

In October 2012, a group of researchers at the University of Chicago began a conversation. The topic of debate? Campus art museums in the 21st century. In trickled a dozen directors, among them leaders from Harvard, Duke and Stanford, to analyze and critique the state of campus museums nationwide. Their findings amounted to this: “Campus museums have unique potential to emerge as leaders and change agents in the new era.”

The burning question, of course, is how?

Campus museums are described as being more experimental and innovative than other museums, factors that allow them to pursue more unconventional kinds of exhibitions. And in order to cater to a wide variety of academic fields, campus museums must translate their respective brands into a diverse array of frameworks.

For example, Kathleen Stimpert, the director of public relations and marketing at the Blanton Museum of Art here at The University of Texas, refers to artists as the “chroniclers of history.” Recognition of a previously discussed historical character in a painting allows students to see the tangible results of their learning. By reinforcing the character’s relevance, the painting rewards the mind and encourages further study.

Many Signature Courses provided by the School of Undergraduate Studies directly integrate the museum into their coursework. Their professors encourage visits and are provided with advertisements for upcoming events. Antonella Olson, a distinguished senior lecturer  in the French and Italian department, teaches such a course to freshmen. She constantly reiterates the fact that her students’ understanding of a topic improves significantly after they have been exposed to tangible examples at the Blanton Museum. “It shows in their writing,” Olson says, “since their subjects are suddenly real to them.” 

The Blanton Museum offers a hub of tangible resources to students, faculty and the local Austin community. Students have the opportunity to visit the museum and its exhibitions at any time, free of charge. The museum also offers a training program for enthusiastic student volunteers. Guided tours are easily arranged, and faculty and organization leaders may book them at their leisure. The opportunities are numerous and the academic gains tangible, yet, according to Stimpert, student visits still make up less than half of the total number of visitors.

When asked why this might be the case, Stimpert alludes to students’ busy schedules. Across the board, students cite an overflowing list of obligations that keep them busy from sunup to sundown. 

Economics junior Stephen Vincent points to the establishment of a routine that does not usually include a time slot for museum visits. “If it’s not in their particular field of interest, [students] just won’t make the time,” Vincent said.

“The key is to get them in for the initial visit — after that they will keep coming,” Stimpert said.

Perhaps the most important benefit of campus art museums is their contribution to the growth of art appreciation in their visitors through education. Students may not fully understand what their eyes are telling them, but they can respect the skill poured into the creation of the piece. If the time is then taken to explain the stylistic characteristics of the piece and its relevance, the student is more likely to see it in his or her own personal context. Computer science junior Alexander Ventura admits: “I would actually go a lot more if I could get a small one-on-one tour of a particular section.” It is the hesitant visitors of today that will provide the exhibitions of tomorrow — perhaps they may even be the ones signing their names at the bottom.

Petsch is a business honors, finance and history sophomore from Houston.

Karen White, a docent at the Blanton Museum, discusses an art piece featured in an exhibition of rare French drawings Thursday afternoon. Tours of the exhibition include detailed information on each piece provided by a former curator of the museum.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

Former Blanton Museum of Art curator Cheryl Snay spent four years reseraching and probing into the history and tiniest details of rare French drawings.

Museum spokeswoman Kathleen Stimpert said because of her work, the Blanton will showcase four rooms filled with drawings from the past four centuries that have much more context than meets the eye.

“She was able to prove or disprove who made the drawings,” she said. “Some of the drawings we thought were by one artist were not. She also worked with the Harry Ransom Center to X-ray the drawings. She found some sketches on the paper that are invisible to the human eye.”

These unique finds attracted American studies senior David Juarez to the exhibit Thursday, he said.

“I like how it brings out details to students like me who would never get the chance to see this unless we went to France or Italy,” Juarez said.

He said he also appreciated the historical context of the exhibit and a small display that shows different tools artists used when making the drawings.

“I like how they represent the materials on hand and see what they had available to create this piece,” Juarez said.

Blanton docent Karen White explained the political climate artists faced during the time that the artwork was produced.

“This is a time when the French Academy had influence over most of the artists in Europe,” White said in a room full of 17th century artwork. “It is important to remember that in the French Academy you couldn’t paint unless you could draw.”

To learn to draw, artists at the time studied in multiple fields and had to rise through the ranks of artistry.

“They would have studied anatomy because drawing the human body is the ultimate goal,” White said. “As you became better you can become a sculptor and later, a painter. Later you could become an architect or a printer.”

In these early ages, the subject matter of paintings was also very limited, White said.

“In this era of the French Academy drawings were limited to religious or mythological topics,” White said. “There were no landscapes, and portraits were limited to high ranking political figures.”

As time went on however, things changed, she said.

“Notice who we are looking at now,” she said about one display of 19th century work. “These are working class people. It’s representative of democratic ideals infiltrating the arts.”

This historical context allowed Buda resident Kim Howell to appreciate the work more, she said.

“I found interesting the historical exhibit and the historical perspective that the docent talked about,” Howell said. “It gives you the opportunity to discover new things.”

Printed on September 30, 2011 as: Blanton showcases rare French drawings in exhibition

Kindergarten students might be more concerned with finger painting than with paintings from the Italian Renaissance, but this year they will have more opportunities to explore the works at the Blanton Museum of Art. The Burdine Johnson Foundation awarded a $150,000 grant to the Blanton Museum of Art to support the museum’s initiatives to expand its K-12 programs. The Art Central program, which supports museum visits for K-12 schools, provides students with transportation to and from their schools and teachers with comprehensive educational materials to prepare the students for their museum experience. The foundation’s grant will allow the Blanton to support tours with more schools in Travis and Hayes counties each year, said museum spokeswoman Kathleen Stimpert. The Blanton education department works closely with the school teachers to optimize the museum experience, with the goal of drawing connections between students’ lives and the world around them, Stimpert said. Jamie Pettit, an art teacher at Zilker Elementary School, has participated in the Blanton’s K-12 program for eight years. She said she was excited to learn the Burdine Johnson Foundation is making efforts to expand the program. “The Blanton offers amazing tours that teach students art beyond the surface,” Pettit said. Zilker Elementary sends its fifth grade class to the Blanton four times a year, free of cost to its students and teachers. Jennifer Fleischman, an art teacher at Caldwell Elementary School, also takes her students on regular tours with the help of the Art Central program. “For many of the children this is the first time for them to come to a museum,” Stimpert said. “We are so thankful that the Burdine Johnson Foundation has an interest in outreach to students, and particularly those students that might not have the opportunity to visit a museum otherwise.” Foundation trustee Bill Johnson said the organization has always been committed to art education for school-aged children in Austin and its surrounding areas. “The foundation’s gift is a continuation of longtime support [for] the Blanton’s educational programs,” Johnson said. In 2010, the Art Central program allowed more than 11,000 students from 125 schools to visit the museum, including 3,800 students that come from lower socioeconomic schools that are traditionally under-served in the arts. The museum has served more than 3,200 K-12 students so far in the first quarter of this fiscal year and, with the help of this grant, the number of visiting students will continue to increase, Stimpert said.