History of Art and Architecture Gets $1 Million from Mellon Foundation

Issue Date: 
April 13, 2015

A $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to the University of Pittsburgh Department of History of Art and Architecture will help to develop stronger partnerships between the department and the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh as well as other venues. 

The grant will support the formation of the Pittsburgh Constellations Consortium—a group of regional partners who will collaborate with the department within the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences to create a mutually beneficial set of college courses, internships, workshops, digital humanities projects, exhibitions, and other exchanges. Key to this effort will be the hiring of a lecturer in curatorial studies—a joint appointment between the department and the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh—and the recruitment of an academic curator for the department. These two hires will assist in leading consortium efforts and in training a new breed of professionals in art history and curation. 

In addition to providing funding for the academic appointments, the foundation grant will also support graduate and undergraduate internships, summer workshops focused on local collections, and at least three new Pitt courses.

“This grant is transformational, creating exciting new opportunities for faculty, students, and members of the community,” said Pitt Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Patricia E. Beeson. “The Constellations Consortium gives every indication of becoming a national and international model for art historical research, teaching, and outreach. It is also a great example of the University’s commitment to making an impact through partnerships.”

The Pittsburgh Constellations Consortium will be supported by a Consortium Advisory Committee, which will convene in fall 2015. The consortium is expected to solidify relationships between the department and such rich cultural institutions as the Carnegie Museums, Carnegie Mellon University, the Frick Art and Historical Center, and other local museums, galleries, archives, and libraries. Through these partnerships, the department will be able to extend its collaborative research to help highlight Pittsburgh’s extraordinary collections. It also hopes to showcase research-based projects at the University Art Gallery and through the Visual Media Workshop, both at Pitt.  

“Pitt faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students are already coming together from across various subfields in collaborative research. Now, the Pittsburgh Constellations Consortium will give them the skills to define the jobs of the future,” said N. John Cooper, the Bettye J. and Ralph E. Bailey Dean of the Dietrich School. “This generous gift will allow our faculty and students to better engage in changing scholarly and museum environments, where collaborating across disciplines grows more imperative by the day.”

The Pittsburgh Constellations Consortium is an outgrowth of the existing Constellations program within Pitt’s Department of History of Art and Architecture. The program organizes student and faculty work around flexible and changing themes of knowledge in the field, including agency, identity, environment, contemporaneity, visual knowledge, and mobility/exchange. These themes are relevant as the scope of art history and curatorial work expands globally and new technologies allow for greater access to and sharing of research.

Inspiration for the Pittsburgh Constellations Consortium also came in part from the Configuring Disciplines exhibition hosted at the University Art Gallery in fall 2014. The show emerged from one of the department’s Constellations workshops and involved collaborative research and curatorial work by faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students. It also included input from eight arts institutions that contributed artwork, illustrated atlases, treatises, and other objects. As an example of the cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional work encouraged by the Constellations program, Configuring Disciplines traced how art, drawings, photographs, maps, and other visual materials have shaped disciplinary knowledge in medicine, physics, and geography in the modern era.

“This is a dream come true,” said Barbara McCloskey, chair of the Department of History of Art and Architecture. “Pittsburgh’s cultural resources are wide and deep, and the learning opportunities for our students are limitless. We look forward to working with the Carnegie Museums and our other cultural neighbors as we pool our resources to put Pittsburgh on the map as a major center for innovative art historical research and exhibition. We are so grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for this support.”