Smart Museum of Art establishes Feitler Center for Academic Inquiry

The Smart Museum of Art is launching a center focused on integrating object-driven inquiry throughout the University of Chicago.

The Feitler Center for Academic Inquiry will provide a new resource for UChicago students, artists and faculty across disciplines—from art history to the physical sciences. It will be a destination for scholars and community members to engage in interdisciplinary research, learning and conversations driven by the study and experience of original works of art.

An early goal of the Feitler Center will be to introduce every student in the College to the practice of close examination at original works of art through an expanded program of curricular visits to the Smart Museum’s study room, which accommodated 130 University class visits and more than 2,000 students in the 2016–2017 academic year.

“The arts play a distinct role in fulfilling the University of Chicago’s commitment to open discourse and rigorous inquiry as informed by a diversity of ideas, identities and experiences. The new Feitler Center will serve as a place for thinkers to come together to advance new understandings through an exchange of diverse perspectives and ideas via the lens of art objects and artistic practices,” said Alison Gass, the Dana Feitler Director of the Smart Museum.

Named for Joan Feitler, AM’55, and Robert Feitler, Lab’45, X’50, and their family in recognition of their support of and service to the University and the arts, the new center will be led by newly appointed director Issa Lampe. Lampe comes to the Smart Museum from the Yale University Art Gallery, where she was the Bradley senior associate curator for academic affairs.

Lampe holds a PhD in the history of art and architecture from Harvard University. She began her career as an assistant professor of modern art history at The American University in Washington, D.C., before developing a professional interest in museum education for university audiences. She has served as associate museum director and senior director of academic and public engagement at Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center, and taught courses at five universities.

“I’m thrilled to join the Smart Museum and look forward to building upon its 40-year legacy in the world of academic museums. The Smart has the distinction of being among the first generation of academic museums to receive a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in the 1990s. This generous gift from the Feitler family will enable us to develop additional programs to support the teaching and learning of faculty and students at the University of Chicago,” Lampe said.

The Feitlers are longtime supporters of UChicago and were instrumental in establishing the Smart Museum in memory of Joan’s uncles, David and Alfred Smart. In 2011, they received the University of Chicago Medal, which recognizes distinguished service of the highest order to the University.

“Our relationship with the Smart Museum goes back 50 years last fall, to when it was just a germ of an idea presented by President Edward Levi to the Smart Family Foundation,” recalled Bob Feitler. “As the Smart begins a new chapter under Ali’s leadership, Joan and I thought there could be no better way to inspire a new generation of students and scholars than to create a lasting home for active learning and study through the visual arts.”

The Feitler Center will build on a foundation of existing academic initiatives at the Smart Museum. They include more than two dozen faculty-curated thematic exhibitions based on the Smart’s collection and a number of related catalogues that featured essays by dozens of faculty members and first-ever publication credits for students. These academic programs began in 1992 with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and subsequently expanded through a series of endowment challenge grants.

Through the Feitler Center, an expanded exhibitions program will provide additional opportunities for faculty-curated exhibitions at the Smart Museum that are designed around the curriculum, student-curated exhibitions where students learn to advance their ideas through the museum, and major scholarly exhibitions that advance research in a particular area, accompanied by major publications. Other programs will integrate the study of objects into the curriculum across campus and will share faculty research with the Smart Museum’s broader public audiences.

“The Feitler Center will enable object-driven inquiry to thrive at the University. It will not only serve as a catalyst for rigorous scholarship in Art History, it will also serve as a forum for discussing methodological and theoretical questions across disciplines, from archaeology to musicology and literary history,” said Bill Brown, senior adviser to the provost for arts and the Karla Scherer Distinguished Service Professor in American culture. “As a scholar who has spent the bulk of my career calling attention to the material object world I could not be more pleased and proud that the Feitler Center will make the University of Chicago the go-to intellectual hub for pursuing this scholarly endeavor.”