Museum Council

Interview with Robert Worstell, Linde Family Head of Community and Studio Arts

Rachel Kase, Development Subcommittee member and MFA graduate research intern interviewed Rob Worstell about the MFA’s 12th annual Artist Project. Over the past school year, students from the Museum’s ten Community Arts Initiative partners visited the MFA with artist Julie Martini as part of this year’s Artist Project, "Community Arts Initiative: Building with Light," on view through October 15 in Gallery 168.

Learn more about the Community Arts Initiative

RK: Where did this idea come from and how has it evolved over its twelve years?

RW: The Community Arts Initiative is funded by the Linde Foundation and has helped us engage with community programs around the city. The Artist Project, in which a visiting artist works with students, is essentially the engine that drives the program. It is really unusual to have such sustained engagement and funding for a community outreach program, which has allowed us to build strong relationships with the partner organizations.

RK: How is the artist selected each year?

RW: Each year we put out a call for the artist in a range of printed and online sources and receive about 30 applications, each of which goes through a jury process. with a contemporary curator, educator, and a person within the community. After the first round of selections, the finalists are reviewed by a second jury before a final decision is made. We have received creative proposals, which allows the initiative to continue with this high level of excitement each year. Keep in mind that the candidate has to be an artist and an educator. The students with whom the artist works have been in school all day. It is not easy to compel kids aged 6 to 12 to focus from 4 to 7 pm!

RK: Tell us about this year’s exhibition.

RW: This year’s Artist Project is “Building with Light.” Julie Martini is the lead artist. She wanted to look critically at how light behaves, working with stained glass, looking at light in Impressionist paintings, and even the science behind light.

Julie’s work appears almost scientific in its patterning and shapes.

In the exhibition, the students worked with everything from gels to filters, sometimes using petri dishes to experiment with different colors to achieve the effect of a mosaic.

RK: Where does most of the work take place?

RW: It depends on each artist. The artist always goes to the community centers to introduce themselves and their idea, and then follows up in many more sessions over the school year. Part-time staff from the MFA work as liaisons at each site, accompanying the artist. This year we had 204 students participate!

RK: Tell me about the final exhibition, which opened to the public in May.

RW: The final exhibition is truly the collective effort of the artist, curator (this year it was Contemporary curator Al Miner), and the students. One thing we have learned over the years is the importance of striking this balance, so that the students’ creativity can still shine in the exhibition space. This year’s exhibition is a light box featuring patterns of their work. The effect when the light box was lit on opening night was quite spectacular! Each year, we are proud to welcome many of the participating students to the MFA for the exhibition opening. Watching them lead their families through the galleries is an incredibly moving experience that always reminds me of the important role that the MFA plays in our community.