Amherst College's Mead Art Museum has a new director and chief curator with a range of experience at several major museums. Elizabeth Barker, who assumed the position in mid-July, had previously worked as the former director of the Picker Art Gallery at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y. and the associate curator of drawings and prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Barker also has served as a fellow in the department of prints and drawings at the British Museum in London, and as a guest curator at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Conn. She holds a bachelor's degree in art history from Yale, as well as graduate degrees in art history from New York University's Institute of Fine Arts, where she also earned her certificate in curatorial studies.
Speaking by phone from Maine, where she was vacationing, Barker was full of enthusiasm for her new position. "I'm just really excited to be coming to Amherst College," she explained. "The students I met there were wonderful, filled with good ideas and really bright, and I liked everyone I met of the college faculty and the colleagues that I'll have at other nearby museums. I think the location will be wonderful."
Barker will oversee museum acquisitions, exhibitions and programs, and the care of the Mead's collections, as well as the management of the museum's seven staff members. Her appointment is the result of an intensive national search conducted by the college last year after the resignation of former director Jill Meredith.
"One of the things I'm really interested in doing at the Mead is working personally with the student docents and making sure we're taking advantage of all their creative energy," said Barker. She said she especially wants to engage with the student community, not only of Amherst but at all area colleges. "We're really eager to become a place that students think of as home - it's their museum."
Barker's plans include getting more of the museum's collection online. "We want to make it convenient for students to find out what we have and what it looks like, and then come and see as much of it as they like."
The Mead was established in 1855 and is home to more than 16,000 works. The museum's collection of American art is one of the most diverse collections in an academic institution, and the Mead is also home to one of the major collections of ukiyo-e - a type of Japanese woodblock printing - in the country. Although Barker's specialties are in 18th- and 19th-century British and 19th- and 20th-century American art - particular strengths of the Mead - she is looking forward to working with a diverse body of art.
"I find that a lot of the ideas that are used in one discipline can be used in another," she explained. "For example, bringing some of the questions that are current in thinking about contemporary art to bear on a piece of ancient art can yield some really interesting results.
"The Mead has a great collection and I think it will be exciting to think about ways in which we can use that collection to tell stories that haven't been told before," she added. "This museum can really be a site for creative exploration."