Appreciating how Picasso prints and historic dental tools belong together in the university’s permanent art collection is just one part of Dina Deitsch’s new job as director and chief curator for Tufts University Art Galleries. The bigger piece is overseeing exhibition spaces and related educational programming at the Medford campus and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts—which Tufts acquired in June 2016—and helping the two communities come together.
“Tufts has one of the best art history faculties in the country, and now one of the top art schools,” said Deitsch, who started at Tufts in July. “As director, my job is to develop relationships between the two campuses and create art programming that will radiate throughout the university and the Greater Boston arts community and beyond.”
Central to this goal is the bond between art scholars and art makers, Deitsch said. Many art history students from the Medford campus study at the SMFA, and as many art students at the SMFA take academic classes in Medford. Deitsch aims to draw more students from all disciplines to the SMFA, while engaging even more SMFA artists to enhance their studies through classes, exhibitions, and other projects in Medford.
To accomplish this, Deitsch and a few members of her staff divide their time between Medford and Boston, organizing exhibitions of works by artists of international stature, students, and alumni, as well as art from the permanent collection. Each year they produce up to six main shows and fifteen to eighteen student- or faculty-driven projects, plus lectures, workshops, student projects, and performances.
On the Medford/Somerville campus, shows and events are held in the roughly five thousand feet of gallery and other exhibition space in the Aidekman Arts Center and the Remis sculpture court. In Boston, Deitsch and her team oversee the Grossman Gallery and auditorium, which hosts large student events and visiting shows, and the student-curated Mission Hill Gallery. “The SMFA is where you come to learn about art making today,” Deitsch said. “We’re training students to enter the art world, to understand art discourse as it’s happening, so the focus here is on contemporary art as it is happening.”
Deitsch already knew the SMFA before arriving at Tufts—she taught there, as well as at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She was the curator for contemporary art at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, and served as interim director at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University the past year.
“Developing exhibitions in the university allows us to take risks and stretch our field to connect with a range of disciplines,” Deitsch said. “Working with faculty and students was the greatest draw to Tufts for me.” Integrating the SMFA into university-wide arts programming is critical, she said. “Over the next years, one of the biggest challenges is building this partnership into a program that is wonderfully radical, scholarly, and invested in everything that’s happening at Tufts.”
She also hopes one day to have a gallery for the permanent collection, and create more welcoming galleries. “We want to break down gallery walls,” she said, “to really help everyone understand that experiencing art is not just about looking at a painting.”
Rob Phelps is a freelance writer based in Quincy, Massachusetts.