Cristle Collins Judd: A Brief History of the Arts at Bowdoin (Part III)

artsatBowdoinToday, the arts play a central role in a Bowdoin education, but that hasn’t always been the case. In this three-part series, Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd explores the history and trajectory of the arts at Bowdoin and the generosity, vision, and determination that have built extraordinary facilities, nurtured the impressive talent of faculty and their students, and continue to bring joy to audiences and thousands of art lovers each and every year.

In this third and final installment, Dean Judd describes the decade-long effort to bolster Bowdoin’s arts facilities, new curricular requirements that make the arts a part of each student’s experience, and the opening of the new Edwards Center for Art and Dance that will serve as a new beacon for the arts on Bowdoin’s historic campus. (Read the first two installments of “A Brief History of the Arts at Bowdoin” here:  Part I    Part II )

Two centuries after receiving James Bowdoin III’s collection of art, what has that gift given to the College? In 2004, in a Baccalaureate Address on the importance of the Arts, President Barry Mills laid out his vision of the role of the arts at the College:

Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Now, as we consider a recommitment to the arts at Bowdoin, a legitimate question probably comes to your mind: Why in this time of technological advance, specialization, vocational education, the biotechnology explosion, why is Bowdoin recommitting itself to the arts? . . . The answer to this question is that the arts are in the bones of this great college. The words are right there in William deWitt Hyde’s “Offer of the College”: ” . . . to count Nature a familiar acquaintance, and Art an intimate friend.”

. . . We believe with conviction that no one can claim to be liberally educated without seeking truth, meaning, and beauty in the study of theatre, dance, music, and the visual arts.

In that same year, the Board approved the renovation of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and the conversion of the Curtis pool into a recital hall. At the same time the faculty approved a new set of curricular requirements, implemented in 2006, which included the requirement that every student at the College complete at least one course in the visual and performing arts during the course of the first two years of study. In a Statement on a Liberal Education, the value of the arts in the Bowdoin curriculum was enshrined in the features that defined the success of that education:

Kanbar Auditorium, Studzinski Recital Hall

Kanbar Auditorium, Studzinski Recital Hall

The success of a Bowdoin education is evident in the capacity of graduates to be informed and critically analytic readers of texts, evidence and conclusions; to be able to construct a logical argument; to communicate in writing and speaking with clarity and self-confidence; to understand the nature of artistic creation and the character of critical aesthetic judgment; to have the capacity to use quantitative and graphical presentations of information critically and confidently; and to access, evaluate, and make effective use of information resources in varied forms and media. These fundamental capacities serve as crucial supports for a commitment to active intellectual inquiry—to taking independent and multi-faceted approaches to solving complex problems; knowing how to ask important and fruitful questions and to pursue answers critically and effectively; sharing in the excitement of discovery and creativity; and being passionately committed to a subject of study. Graduates should thus have the ability to engage competing views critically, to make principled judgments that inform their practice, and to work effectively with others as informed citizens committed to constructing a just and sustainable world.

The opening of Studzinski Recital Hall and the newly renovated Museum of Art in 2007, taken together with the recent renovation of Pickard Theater and the creation of Wish theater, created a vibrant arts and culture quadrangle with world-class museums, libraries, and performance venues ringing the quadrangle.

The reopening of the Museum of Art was celebrated with a yearlong program, “Visual Culture in the 21st Century,” which sought new ways for the museum and the curriculum to intersect. That curricular intersection has only grown in subsequent years, with courses across the campus connecting to the museum’s exhibitions and resources and classes regularly taught in the Zuckert seminar room that range from art history, to archeology, to history, to all corners of the curriculum. In conjunction with one recent exhibition, faculty co-curators were drawn from the Departments of Math and Earth and Oceanographic Science. And summer exhibitions such as the Edward Hopper show, the William Wegman show, and this year’s Maurice Prendergast show have drawn rave reviews and thousands of visitors to the museum. As importantly, Bowdoin students now return to campus each fall eagerly awaiting their chance to enjoy a world-class exhibition (and to own in with their “night in the museum,” which draws hundreds of students into the museum on a Friday night early in the semester.)

The successful capital campaign that supported these important renovations also brought new positions to the college in performance studies and creative writing. George Lopez, Beckworth Artist-in-Residence in Music, draws standing-room-only audiences to his performances and leads a vibrant program in chamber music. Residencies by world-class artists and musicians allow our students to work side-by-side with extraordinary professionals. And now, with the Edwards Center for Art and Dance ,we at last have appropriate venues on campus for all facets of studio art and dance.

Edwards Arts Center

Edwards Arts Center

So we find ourselves at an extraordinary moment in the history of the College as we celebrate the transformation of the Longfellow Elementary School into the Robert H. and Blythe Bickel Edwards Center for Art and Dance, with the role and importance of the arts firmly situated in our curriculum and in the fabric of our campus, and as an amazing resource for Brunswick and mid-Coast Maine. Alongside that, a burgeoning culture of student-led music, theater, dance, and writing groups flourishes, with far too many groups to begin to enumerate here. For a taste of the arts life on campus this semester, visit

I firmly believe that the centrality of the arts in a liberal arts education rests in the ability of art to reveal deep truths that transcend our individual moment. While the arts may offer ornamentation, escape, even therapy, we must recognize that they are neither luxury nor afterthought. The initiatives to which we are committed will ensure that the arts are an integral part of the Bowdoin experience—from the extra-curricular, to the co-curricular, to our curricular requirement in the performing and visual arts.

This is truly an exciting time to be at Bowdoin! Tours of the Edwards Center will be available at Homecoming and during an open house for the public on November 2. We can’t wait to see the wonderful things that our students and faculty will create in this space, and the ways they will enrich all of our lives in doing so!

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Author’s Note: It is a great privilege to search out and relate these bits of Bowdoin’s history as a narrative timeline of sorts, and to play a role in the recent history. Inevitably an essay like this can only offer highlights of two hundred years, and some of my readers will likely feel that I have given more recent decades short shrift, in which case I look forward to the comments from alumni and others that will fill in some of the many gaps.


  1. Merton Henry says:

    Excellent articles on the arts at Bowdoin. I hope they will be published in Bowdoin Magazine or in a special pamphlet since they summarize a crucial part of the history of the College.

  2. Christa Cornell says:

    It’s wonderful to have the history of Bowdoin’s arts on the Bowdoin Sun.Still, it’s surprising that my late husband, Thomas Cornell, wasn’t included. While Phil Beam did (briefly) teach visual art, he was always clear that he was an art historian and was a huge supporter of getting Tom, a real artist, to Bowdoin to teach art.

    Tom Cornell was the first artist brought to Bowdoin to teach art. The president flew to Santa Barbara, CA, where he was teaching, to make his case for Tom to be the first artist to teach at Bowdoin. Marvin Sadik, the museum director brought to Bowdoin one year before Tom was hired was influential in choosing Tom for that position. Tom was affiliated with the College for 50 years, from 1962-2012 (the year of his retirement and of his death), and was involved in uncounted policies and personnel decisions that are reflected in today’s visual art department. During his tenure, since he was the only artist for some time, he taught drawing, printmaking, sculpture, painting – even photography, in the early days before the College had a photographer. Since it seems that there’s never been any other faculty member in any department with a longer tenure at the College, he really should be included in any brief history of the arts that mentions specific faculty members.

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