Nord Family Fund Ensures Education Outreach Remains Permanent

Nora Kipnis, Arts Editor

As college students, we are used to sitting in a classroom listening to lectures by someone one or two generations older than us. But at the Tuesday Teas at the Allen Memorial Art Museum, the situation is reversed; this past Tuesday, a small crowd of local adults, including many residents of Kendal at Oberlin, gathered in the East Gallery of the Allen to hear Sarah McLusky, OC ’13, discuss paintings and prints and how they demonstrate the rise of humanism during the Renaissance. The student docent program is a unique feature that makes the Allen stand out among college art museums; while others provide training in museum education for graduate students in art history, Oberlin’s program is one of the few that allows undergraduate students of all majors to become docents.


The Tuesday Tea program is one of the many educational outreach programs at the Allen, and symbolic of how the museum has become an educational bridge between the College and the community. These outreach programs are directed by the Curator of Education, a position that has existed sporadically at the Allen since the mid 1980s. Now, thanks to a generous $1.5 million endowment by the Eric and Jane Nord Family Fund, the newly-renamed Eric and Jane Nord Family Curator of Education position will remain permanently at the Allen, ensuring that museum education will be available to Lorain County for as long as the museum’s doors are open.


Jason Trimmer, who has been the Curator of Education at the Allen since 2006, expressed delight at the recent endowment, which provides financial stability that the museum hasn’t experienced since the 1990s. After 9/11, Trimmer explained, the College instituted a hiring freeze for many positions due to economic uncertainty. Thanks to this endowment, as well as endowments for four out of five other curatorial positions, the Allen will be able to better formulate long-term plans without fear of another economic scare impacting the College’s finances. “There’s going to be funding for [the positions] no matter what happens,” said Trimmer.


This particular endowment is part of the Oberlin Illuminate Campaign, a seven-year, $250 million fundraising campaign that has already raised $212.4 million. One of the main goals of the campaign is to get more positions endowed to ensure permanence; for intance, the Curator of Asian Art will be reinstated in May, thanks to another recent endowment. This will be the first time since 9/11 that the museum will have a full curatorial staff.


The Nord family has been an important sponsor of the Allen and other arts initiatives in Lorain County for decades. The Nord Gallery on the north side of the Allen, devoted to Renaissance art, was dedicated in honor of Eric Nord’s parents. “They have a very strong commitment to Oberlin’s educational principles, education in the arts in the local community, and outreach to the greater Lorain County community in terms of arts education,” said Museum Director Andria Derstine. The Nords’ daughter, Emily McClintock, graduated from Oberlin College in 1976. Jane Nord currently lives at Kendal and is on the Board of Trustees at Firelands Association for the Visual Arts, which often collaborates with the Curator of Education to create programs. Trimmer says that both he and Derstine have a “really warm relationship with Jane Nord,” and he’s glad that “she’s able to see the impact… of having [the museum] so accessible.”


Thanks to the generosity of the Nord Family Fund, Trimmer will be able to sustain a variety of programs including collaborations with the Oberlin Heritage Center and FAVA on youth summer camp programs, Tuesday Teas, First Thursday evening hours, and the highly popular Chalk Walk in late June, when locals and artists cover Oberlin’s sidewalks with chalk art. Trimmer has also created a substantial web presence for the Allen, including a Facebook page and a Tumblr with almost 12,000 followers.


Besides outreach to the broader Lorain County area, Trimmer works closely with students during Winter Term to train them as docents. Since his arrival, he has rethought the class, broadening it to include information about general museum and fine arts careers, meetings with museum staff and trips to art conservation labs in Cleveland.


Trimmer also employs a student assistant — currently, Julia Melfi, a College junior majoring in Theater and Art History — who is researching the effects of museum education, a relatively new field. Melfi is working on developing surveys for docents, teachers and visitors to see if they are impacted by the tours and programs the Allen provides. “Museum education … focuses on visual literacy and critical seeing skills,” said Melfi.  “Oftentimes, I think we really stress the written word and text … but I think it’s important to also realize that we can read an image in much the same way that we can read a book.” Trimmer echoed her sentiment about the importance of art education: “I like… sparking an interest in art. … People are a lot more able to read images than they think they are, and that’s gratifying to see.”