Section: Arts

Gallery curator Natasha Ritsma leaves to pursue PhD

By Anna Dunlavey

The Gund Gallery, founded in 2012, has become an established part of the Kenyon community, largely thanks to Natasha Ritsma. For the past two years, Ritsma has created programs and designed events to spark interest in the Gallery, which is still relatively new to Kenyon’s campus. However, her time working at Kenyon has been a bit of an obstacle in her attempt to achieve another goal: earning her PhD. Therefore, Ritmsa plans to leave her position as the Gallery’s curator of academic programs at the end of the calendar year.

“When one pursues a PhD, there is a set limit to the amount of time you have between taking your qualifying exams and filing your dissertation,” Gund Gallery Director Natalie Marsh wrote in an email to the Collegian. “Natasha feels it is imperative that she ensure she is able to complete her PhD work before that deadline is upon her.” 

Ritsma found out about the position at Kenyon when she was working as the interdisciplinary programs coordinator at the Indiana University Art Museum, a position funded by an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant. She is also completing her dual PhD in communication and culture and American studies at Indiana.

“When I learned about the curator of academic programs position at the Graham Gund Gallery, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to utilize the experience I gained under the Mellon grant,” Ritsma wrote. “I was very excited to work in a new gallery on a beautiful campus that had a record of exhibiting work by many of my favorite artists, such as Kiki Smith, Kara Walker and Alfredo Jaar.”

Since her arrival at Kenyon, Ritsma has created many programs for Kenyon students. The first program she developed, the Faculty Gallery Talks series, is now in its third semester. Most recently, Ritsma organized last week’s Evening of Wine and Poetry, and has organized multiple lectures from visiting artists and scholars. Ritsma also created programs specific to Kenyon courses. Marsh reported that over 550 students, about one-third of the student body, visited the Gallery for a class during the 2013-2014 academic year. 

Ritsma also played a large role in developing the student-run film society Cinearts. Ritsma, who taught film classes during her graduate studies and was involved in film programming at the Indiana University Cinema, wanted to bring a student film society back into Kenyon life while also relating it to the Gund Gallery. “I learned there was no active film group on campus and thought that starting a film group that screened films that would connect to the Gallery, the Kenyon curriculum and appeal to liberal arts students would be a fun endeavor,” Ritsma wrote.

Cinearts certainly seems to have appealed to Kenyon students, as over 950 students attended film screenings last semester. Ritsma and Cinearts also developed the new program “Dinner and a Movie,” for which food trucks from the Columbus area come to Middle Path before a Cinearts film screening to serve food related to the movie. Although the program was created in connection to the Gallery’s Feast exhibition, it has become so popular that it will continue into next year. Ritsma hopes Cinearts will continue even after she leaves. “The students always select amazing films to screen and now they are getting experience working with distributors in securing screening rights,” she wrote.

Ritsma said she would consider returning to the Gund Gallery after completing her PhD.  “Kenyon is a wonderful school with brilliant professors and fantastic students,” she wrote.

The Gallery would be glad to have her back, according to Marsh. “We really want Natasha to complete her degree comfortably, to try to enjoy the process and wish her the absolute best as she successfully accomplishes such a huge personal and professional goal,” Marsh said. “It’s not easy.”

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