The Colby Museum of Art’s director leaves after 13 years

Last Wednesday, President Greene announced that Sharon Corwin, Director and Chief Curator of the Colby College Museum of Art, will be leaving the College on June 1 to become CEO of the Chicago-based Terra Foundation for American Art.

Corwin was first hired by the College in 2002 as Lunder Curator for American Art, and within four years, she had moved up to Director of the Museum. As director, Corwin helped transform the museum, supervising expansions, countless exhibitions, and even led the creation of the Lunder Institute for American Art. Much of her work has led to the strengthening of ties between the students and the museum.

“It’s a museum that’s seen tremendous growth, through its staff, through its collections, through its facilities, its programs, and its engagement with students,” Corwin told the Echo. “That was one of the things I had really focused on during my time here: asking the question, ‘How can the museum be relevant to the Colby student experience?’” she said.

“[I was] looking and working with faculty to bring the objects that we have in our collections and exhibitions into the different disciplines that are being taught here at Colby,” Corwin said. “It was really a big part of our mission to be relevant, not just to art and art history, but to disciplines throughout the curriculum…That’s been enormously rewarding for me.”

Due largely to Corwin’s strong leadership, the museum has reached Colby students and community members in their everyday lives as well.

“That’s the beauty of it; it’s not just in the classroom, it’s co-curricular. We have yoga classes [and] we’re doing all this work around wellness. [The museum] can be a place you come to just escape the day, and to contemplate and reflect, and be quiet for a moment, be still for a moment, and then it can be a place where you come to meet a friend, it can be a place where you meet a community member. It’s a great bridge between Waterville and Colby.”

Corwin will soon be moving to Chicago to take her new role as CEO of the Terra Foundation.

“I will be helping oversee and lead the Terra Foundation’s mission, which is to support and advance American art studies, scholarship, [and] creation internationally,” Corwin said. “I’m really looking forward to continuing to build partnerships and collaboration. That’s always been a key part of my work here–something I believe deeply in. I’m looking forward to supporting other institutions and other scholars and artists through the resources of the Terra Foundation. It’ll be a learning curve, and one that I’ll embrace… It’ll be a new challenge, which I think is healthy.”

While Corwin is looking forward to using her new platform to make a difference in people’s lives, she will miss Colby, too.

“I’m going to miss the people. I’m going to miss the engagement with students, the opportunity to mentor students, to teach students, to be a part of their lives. I’m going to miss the community that comes in here. When you see these school groups coming to visit, doing art activities, in our galleries, that’s one of the most rewarding things. I’m going to miss the staff. This museum team is a group of people that I admire so deeply. I’m going to miss the faculty and staff here at Colby, who I’ve built strong partnerships with. I’ll miss the art, and it’s great art, and there’s nothing like putting your work down for a minute and strolling through the galleries to remember why we do this. But the thing I will miss the most will be the people.”

Corwin spoke more broadly about her goals moving forward.

“I want to leave and have an impact on the world, through art. I think art can make a difference in people’s lives… That’s what’s been so rewarding to me here: everything from the first grader who comes into this museum for the very first time [and] this is the first museum they’ve ever been in, to a Colby student who has a transformative internship that changes the trajectory of their career, to a visitor who maybe drove up from wherever, who is able to just spend time in our galleries and have art change their perspective on something. That’s work worth doing.”

President Greene is currently spearheading the international search for a new museum director. Whoever it is, they’ll certainly have big shoes to fill.