Thanks to a generous gift from the Ehlers family, Hamline students are connecting to the art world through internships and travel.
Leonardo Lasansky has never forgotten some advice he once received: If you want to learn how something works, get as close to the machinery as you can.
“When I was in school in the 1960s, film was the vehicle of expression for our generation,” said Lasansky, an artist-in-residence at Hamline who recently retired from teaching studio arts. “I took a course on film production and I asked the professor about pursuing the craft. He told me that I needed to get as close to the machinery as possible. Just get myself into the environment, then watch what happens.”
Lasansky has kept those wise words in mind for the past twelve years as he has helped dozens of Hamline undergraduates get close to the art world’s machinery by interning at some of the most prestigious art museums. In addition, Lasansky has traveled with students to cultural hotspots, connecting them to artists, museums, and art dealers through his contacts all around the globe. He has given them eye-opening experiences that have prepared them to launch their own arts-related careers.
“I really believe that young people can do remarkable things if they’re given the opportunity, if they are put in the right environment,” Lasansky said.
The students are beneficiaries of a connection between Lasansky and Thomas Ehlers ’59 and his wife, Sandra McCartney Ehlers. Tom had a longtime career in retail management and is a former trustee of Hamline, and Sandy is an artist and author. Both are staunch supporters of financial aid for students. They also have an abiding love for the arts.
In the late 1990s, they were thinking of creating a scholarship fund in memory of Tom’s mother, an “amazing woman who worked very hard to put herself through school,” Tom said. “I always felt that if she’d been given the right opportunities, there would have been no limit to what she could do.” With the creation of a fund already in mind—but not quite settled on how to focus it—the couple visited campus and was impressed with an exhibition of Francisco Goya’s prints (as part of España, a university-wide festival) that was curated by Lasansky.
They became friends with Lasansky, who proposed that Hamline students would benefit from financial support for experiential learning, particularly arts internships, which tend to be unpaid. The Ehlerses agreed, and thus was born the Genevieve Rust Ehlers Endowed Fund, which supports educational travel and museum internships for studio arts and art history students.
“Art is so important because it’s the birthplace of creativity,” Sandy said. “It is such a positive aspect of our culture, and experiences in the arts can lead to all sorts of different careers for students.”
Lasansky has worked closely with the fund, matching students to internships and experiences specifically tailored to their interests and talents. “These opportunities must match what the students’ skills are, so I hand-fit them to a situation that makes the most sense, both for the student and the museum,” he said. The students often do graduate-level work for the museums, and the experiences have led to employment in the arts for many of them.
The first two interns, in 2001 and 2002, worked at the Museum for African Art in New York City, and both were later hired by the museum. Other interns have helped create a show at the Louvre and have researched Rembrandt’s etchings and dry points in the print and drawing room of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Several have pursued their artistic passions at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Lasansky currently is negotiating potential internships at an exhibition in Florence, Italy, and at a conservator in Amsterdam. “I’m a firm believer that frontloading young people’s lives is the way to go, to get them quickly on track and to support them while doing it,” he said.
These experiential learning opportunities are known as high-impact educational practices, according to Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP), an initiative of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Internships that provide students with direct experience in a work setting create opportunities for connections with and guidance from professionals in a field of the student’s interest. Such connections can often bridge the gap between classroom work and the real world.
“The fine arts are important to Hamline’s liberal arts mission,” said Tony Grundhauser, vice president for development and alumni relations. “It’s important that we help students in the arts be prepared for whatever they choose to do, whether it’s a career in the arts, further arts education, or something else entirely. The Ehlers Fund fits perfectly with supporting students in experiential learning.”
The Ehlerses couldn’t be more pleased with the success of the program. Their generosity has made it possible for students with financial need to pursue meaningful hands-on work in the arts and to make connections that help them realize they can be deeply involved in the art world without having to be the next Van Gogh.
“We wanted to give students an extraordinary opportunity to jump into the art world—to open their eyes to the possibilities available to them,” Tom said. “It’s unbelievable, the things they do and experience, and it has transformed their lives. We are just delighted.”
Rayna Olson ’09
Art history major, studio arts minor
Art at Hamline: When Olson declared an art history major, she didn’t think it was the most practical option.
“I started in economics and pre-med because I believed I needed to study something that would get me a job,” she said. “But I hated it. I really loved art, first and foremost.” Olson was interested in learning more about how art and society interact.
Ehlers Fund internship: Olson received two scholarships from the Ehlers Fund. She assisted the registrar at a local private collection of early twentieth-century American art. After graduation, Olson interned for six months in the contemporary arts program at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. She did extensive background research to compile information for exhibition labels or to assist the curator in writing articles about the collection.
What’s next? Olson is executive assistant to the chief curator of the MIA. She assists with special projects, museum policy research, and managing permissions for the use of images in catalogs and other publications. Olson maintains a small art studio for block printing, collage, and drawing. “I want to continue to create art,” she said, “but I can also see myself doing project management for arts-related nonprofits.”
Rebekah Marzahn Coffman ’12
Art history and religion majors, Spanish minor
Art at Hamline: Coffman intended to be an environmental studies major until she took an entry-level art history course that changed her perspective. “It had never occurred to me that art could have such an incredible impact in forming the very foundations of human perception,” she said. She was hooked and began digging deeper into the connections between social, political, and religious issues as reflected in art.
Ehlers Fund internship: Coffman is interning in the Department of Decorative Arts, Textiles, and Sculptures at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. She works as a research assistant and is focused on a series of six bronzes for an upcoming exhibition. She has conducted encyclopedic, observational, and historical research; read primary sources of Greek and Roman mythologies; and made iconographic comparisons to other works.
What’s next? Coffman plans to attend graduate school at some point. In the meantime, her internship has been extended until spring 2013, and she spent February conducting research at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Zach Cramer ’12
Studio arts major, art history minor
Art at Hamline: Cramer started out as an engineering major at another school. “It turns out engineering wasn’t creative enough for me,” he said. So he transferred to Hamline to focus on the fine art of intaglio printmaking. “Learning printmaking at Hamline was wonderful,” Cramer said. “I could truly focus on the medium. I became very knowledgeable about it, much like students who study painting or sculpture intensively for four years.”
Ehlers Fund internship: Cramer interned in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts during the summer of 2011. “The collection has 80,000 prints and drawings, but only so many can be on view to the public at a time,” he said. “So the department functions as a working library or archive where people can make appointments to study the full collection.” Cramer’s job was to organize, document, and research donated works so that patrons had access to each item in the collection as it grew.
“This curatorial work helped me realize how a museum’s archival systems work,” Cramer said. “Spending hours building a large repository of images was a positive experience. As a visual artist, everything you see becomes part of your language, whether consciously or subconsciously.”
What’s next? Cramer said his eyes were opened to the art world and its possibilities. “I was able to network and talk with many artists, and that’s something I didn’t really know how to do before,” he said. “I met a lot of people who have had positive influences on me.”
Cramer is a graphic designer at the University of Minnesota and an art handler at Schaffer Fine Arts Services in Saint Paul. He also is working on his portfolio in preparation for graduate school.
by Marla Holt