Mark Mitchell '97
UMass offers unlimited opportunities for undergraduates in search of their passion. I remember feeling tentative about my first forays into art history at UMass. Could this be it, I wondered? How will I know? Each course, each paper, each exam, each visit to office hours helped me to move down the circuitous path of curiosity, understanding, and, eventually, commitment. There were setbacks and struggles; some fields of art seemed utterly closed off to me initially and required patient support from professors as well as classmates and teaching assistants. I nearly flunked a couple of classes at the midterm, only to turn the ship around in time for the finals with a lot of help from my friends.
Despite what always seemed like a razor-thin margin for success, I graduated with honors and was admitted into the doctoral program at Princeton to study American art history. Going straight to graduate school had its own anxieties. It meant climbing, once again, the high wall of uncertainty. As I soon discovered, however, UMass had prepared me well. Part of the beauty and strength of UMass is the diversity of its students from all over the Commonwealth and far beyond. My classmates were all types of people. The rarefied atmosphere of graduate school balanced with the strong connection to people and community that I had developed at UMass, where I was involved with Habitat for Humanity and the Daily Collegian. I count those early experiences among the most important to my development.
In the summer of 2015, I transition from my current position as the Associate Curator of American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to become the Holcombe T. Green Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale University Art Gallery. As I look forward to this new chapter, I remain deeply grateful to UMass not just for my art historical foundation, but also for the many opportunities to explore the other, varied academic and personal interests that are the roots of my work as a curator. I remember well the day during my senior year when I traveled from Amherst to New Haven for a program at Yale that featured artists Chuck Close, who once taught at UMass, and Frank Stella in conversation with critic Michael Kimmelman of The New York Times. I could not have known then the many roads that I would travel or that they would eventually lead me back to Yale, but I see clearly in retrospect how UMass started me on my way and helped me to navigate the road ahead.