50th Anniversary of the Art Semester

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By: Caitlin Shannon, Editor of Student and Arts

This year the Semester on Contemporary Art is celebrating it’s 50th Anniversary, making it the second-oldest New York City Semester after the United Nations. Structured a bit differently from all the other New York Semesters, the Semester on Contemporary Art is a full immersion into the world of art in New York City. Offered every fall semester and a requirement for Drew Art and Art History majors, although open to anyone, this program provides invaluable experiences to those who participate.

Professor of Art History and Program Director Kimberly Rhodes leads students all over the five boroughs from artists’ studios in Brooklyn to galleries in Chelsea to the Museum of Modern Art. Rhodes commented on the unique qualities of the art semester, saying, “Unlike studying contemporary art in a classroom setting, New York City–its museums, art galleries, public art, artists’ studios–IS the classroom for the art semester.” She continued, “ Students have unparalleled, direct access to works of art and experts in the field (artists, critics, curators, gallerists, museum exhibition designers, conservators, and others) in the city considered to be the capital of the global contemporary art world.”

It is this access that has drawn students like Art and Art History major Shayna Miller (’19) to the program. Miller said, “It is a great opportunity to be able to explore museums and galleries in the city as well as to talk to people working in a variety of fields in the arts from curators to art critics to artists.” It is these sort of practical networking opportunities that make the art semester doubly impactful. Miller commented on the myriad of benefits that come from the program, saying, “The semester has exposed me to the numerous careers in the arts as well as the challenges and opportunities. It has made me really excited about being an artist and the future. Seeing other art has been insightful and provided me with new ideas when approaching my own work.”

Like all of the New York City Semesters, the art semester provides students with hands-on and on-site experiences that are applicable to their interests and future plans. Rhodes commented on this, saying, “The art semester also provides students with insider knowledge of the art world and its career possibilities. Because we don’t have a classroom and move widely around Manhattan and Brooklyn, students learn their way around the city, empowering them to return, explore exhibitions and investigate job opportunities on their own.”

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the art semester, an anniversary Gala was held in the city. The event brought together the current students on the art semester with alumni who had participated in the program. Alumni from every decade since the 1960s were represented at the event. To start off the celebration, there was a tribute to Professor Lee Hall, who started the art semester program. After some other remarks, there was time for mingling and talking, where alumni and current students could talk about their interests and experiences thanks to the art semester.

Among the invaluable experiences offered during the art semester is inspiration for future projects and career paths. Katie Bell, the program coordinator, shared, “The types of internships and jobs that art semester students are often getting are jobs working as gallery assistants, assistants to artists in their studios, art handling at museums and institutions, as well as working in archives and research at art institutions.  For example, recent grad Sylvie Harris is working as the gallery manager for Pace Prints and Katharine Overgaard is the gallery director at Franklin Parrasch Gallery.”

Another great example is Miller’s current Digital Humanities project that is quite apt for the 50th Anniversary of the program. Miller explained her project, saying, “I am mapping out places visited by a Drew student on the art semester in 1973 based on her journal. I hope to explore how the art world has changed in New York City.”

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