Mason Partners with Smithsonian on New Master’s Program
Year one of the newest George Mason University–Smithsonian partnership is now etched in history.
The Smithsonian has offered a degree in the history of decorative arts since 1996, but this new partnership links one of the world’s most prestigious institutions with the university and all that it has to offer.
“The collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and Mason brings together the unparalleled resources and collections of the world’s largest museum complex with the experience and expertise of the Mason administration and faculty and the resources of one of the nation’s fastest-growing research universities,” says Cynthia Williams, director of the program.
The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia approved the master’s degree in March 2011, and the program began at Mason that fall.
Currently, more than 90 students are enrolled in the 48-credit, 16-course program. Mason plans to admit 30 to 35 new students per year. Most students arrive with a background in art history study, although others have studied history, anthropology, law, government, and business. Students explore the decorative arts to pursue careers in museums, commercial art, curation, education, art galleries, interior design, and other widely varying fields. The program’s expert faculty and two required internships support the students’ preparation for future experiences and careers.
Jack Censer, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Mason, observes that the partnership benefits both organizations.
“It is always a great honor to team with the Smithsonian, and now we are part of one of the leading programs in decorative arts in the world,” says Censer. “This program strengthens and enhances what we already do in this field and broadens it by including art such as painting, sculpture, furniture, silverware, and the buildings that hold them.”
The program covers decorative art from the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia, among other places, and offers courses in professional training and historical studies. It is the only program of its kind in Virginia. The program accepts students for fall and spring, and students can enroll full or part time. Courses are held at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and Mason’s Fairfax Campus.
“I really love the program, and I’ve been extremely impressed with the caliber of academic work and the scholarship,” says Rebecca Petillo, an MA candidate in the program, set to earn her degree in 2013. “Hearing our faculty members’ perspectives, knowledge, and scholarship in this area is a benefit that I really value and appreciate.”
Petillo enjoys the work she does in the program, from the heavy research to the variety of interesting course work. She has taken classes focusing on her different interests, which include glass, ceramics, studio furniture, contemporary craft, and historical survey. She has had several top-flight workplace appointments, including an internship with senior Smithsonian official Jane Milosch, during Milosch’s time as a curator at the Renwick Gallery, and another with Richard Kurin, undersecretary for history, art, and culture at the Smithsonian.
Petillo and the others in the program love the curriculum for one reason alone.
“This is my passion,” she says.
This article originally appeared on the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Cornerstone magazine.
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