Scholars and Stewards: The Fine Foundation
The Fine Foundation funds three internships per year for Pitt History of Art and Architecture students interested in learning about the role of museum curators and other professionals in nonprofit arts organizations. The three Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellows work with local arts professionals as mentors. From left, Pitt senior and Fine Fellow Maria Castro; Gretchen Bender, assistant chair of Pitt’s Department of History of Art and Architecture; Sheila and Milton Fine; Pitt senior and Fine Fellow Natalie Sweet; and Fine Fellow Chanelle Labash (A&S ’12). (Photo by Susan Zavage Grivnow)
It was during a business trip to Paris in the late 1970s, Milton Fine (A&S ’49, LAW ’50) recalls, when he experienced “a critical moment which led to a lifetime passion.” The moment: passing an art gallery, catching a glimpse of a painting, entering the gallery, and impulsively buying the artwork. The lifetime passion: learning everything he can about art and giving others the opportunity to do the same.
“The piece was surrealistic, very colorful, vivid, and fun,” Fine says. “I obviously associated the painting with my feelings for Paris, and in some way it captured the pleasure I always felt about being in Paris.”
Intrigued by the power of art to convey messages, Fine has been enthusiastic about supporting Pittsburgh’s art community and helping others gain an appreciation for artistic expression. In keeping with that interest, The Fine Foundation, a private foundation that Milton Fine chairs, has created a partnership with the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of History of Art and Architecture. The foundation’s support has spurred a significant broadening of the department’s curriculum, opening new pathways for exploration and learning.
“The big takeaway is that a simple, generous act can reverberate and generate enthusiasm among students, adding to a program a wholly new curricular dimension that didn’t exist before. That enthusiasm then leads to broader and longer-term [career] planning,” says Gretchen Bender, assistant chair and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of History of Art and Architecture.
Fine and his wife, Sheila Reicher Fine, created The Fine Foundation in 1998 following the sale of the Interstate Hotels Corporation, the largest independent hotel management company in the United States. Fine was the company’s cofounder and chair.
Milton Fine has served as a prominent patron of the local arts scene and, for the past 30 years, has held a seat on the board of the Carnegie Museum of Art, serving as the museum’s board chair from 1994 to 2000. Fine is a founder and emeritus board member of The Andy Warhol Museum. The Fine Foundation endowed that museum’s Milton Fine Curator of Art position.
Ever since making his impulsive purchase of that surrealistic painting in Paris, Fine has dedicated himself to reading about art, visiting museums when possible, and developing friendships with people “who knew a great deal more about art than I did,” he says.
“In the process of learning about art, I have developed a strong appreciation for artists and how they make a significant difference in our society,” he adds.
Sheila Fine shares her husband’s commitment to giving back. A volunteer and activist since her teen years, Sheila cofounded LEAD Pittsburgh (Leading Education and Awareness for Depression). She, too, has served on numerous Pittsburgh organizations’ boards.
The groundwork for The Fine Foundation’s partnership with Pitt was laid in 2009, when the University’s Department of History of Art and Architecture introduced a pilot course, Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar, to provide students with hands-on curatorial experience. Envisioning the class’ content were professor and then-department chair Kirk Savage and Eric Shiner (A&S ’94), who at the time was the Milton Fine Curator of Art at The Warhol. (Shiner is now The Warhol’s director.)
For the new course, students curated a portion of the Barry Rosensteel Japanese Print Collection, which was donated to Pitt in 2008. The course and its exhibition, hosted by the University Art Gallery in the Frick Fine Arts Building, were very successful. But the department questioned how it would continue to fund the course year after year.
Enter The Fine Foundation, which agreed in 2010 to support the museum curatorial class as well as create three annual internships for department students. The Fine Foundation funded the class for three years until last fall, when the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences assumed financial responsibility. The Fine Foundation continues to fund three Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellowships, which provide a $3,500 stipend per intern and enable Fine Fellows to work with local arts professionals who mentor the students in performing curatorial duties and other museum operations.
Maria Castro, one of the three current Fine Fellows, is interning with Janet McCall, executive director of the Society for Contemporary Craft in the Strip District. Castro is pursuing a double major in history and the history of art and architecture. She is working toward a minor in Italian—and is considering a career in academia.
Castro served, as part of her internship, as the teaching assistant for the Department of History of Art and Architecture’s Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar, which McCall has taught since 2010.
“Working with the [Society for Contemporary Craft] is a great experience, and I have an opportunity to learn about how a professor teaches a course and why certain readings are assigned. Knowing I would work with Janet was a huge part of why I applied for the Fine internship. I was really excited about that,” said Castro, who will continue her internship through the end of this spring term.
The Fine Foundation has funded nine fellowships to date. Curatorial internships have been offered by, in addition to the Society for Contemporary Craft, the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Contemporary Art and Decorative Arts and Design departments and The Warhol.
“These partnerships between students and arts organizations benefit students, the arts institutions, the University, and the region,” says Fine. “Sheila and I love projects that have this multilevel impact.”
Bender says The Fine Foundation-funded initiative is helping history of art and architecture students learn about careers in museums and nonprofit arts organizations. The department also is planning a new 15-credit minor for museum studies, including two new courses to complement the core museum studies exhibition seminar.
The department also has created a spring internship program for undergraduate students to learn about museum practice and to acquire gallery experience in the University Art Gallery.
The Fine Foundation also supports Jewish life, science and medicine, and the enrichment of the Pittsburgh region. Milton Fine has served on the Pitt Board of Trustees and the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business Board of Visitors. He was named a University of Pittsburgh Legacy Laureate in 2000.
As for the Parisian surrealistic painting, Fine says he became less enamored of it the more he learned about art. He eventually sold it. But even though he no longer owns the artwork, Fine knows the piece gave him the gift of a lifetime.
The Fine Foundation funds three internships per year for Pitt History of Art and Architecture students interested in learning about the role of museum curators and other professionals in nonprofit arts organizations. The three Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellows work with local arts professionals as mentors. From left, Pitt senior and Fine Fellow Maria Castro; Gretchen Bender, assistant chair of Pitt’s Department of History of Art and Architecture; Sheila and Milton Fine; Pitt senior and Fine Fellow Natalie Sweet; and Fine Fellow Chanelle Labash (A&S ’12).
Other Stories From This Issue
On the Freedom Road
Follow a group of Pitt students on the Returning to the Roots of Civil Rights bus tour, a nine-day, 2,300-mile journey crisscrossing five states.
Day 1: The Awakening
Day 2: Deep Impressions
Day 3: Music, Montgomery, and More
Day 4: Looking Back, Looking Forward
Day 5: Learning to Remember
Day 6: The Mountaintop
Day 7: Slavery and Beyond
Day 8: Lessons to Bring Home
Day 9: Final Lessons