David Little Appointed Director of Mead Art Museum
Issue   |   Fri, 09/04/2015 - 00:53

David Little became the new director of the Mead Art Museum on Monday, replacing former director Elizabeth Barker.

Little previously worked as the head of the department of photography and new media at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Before that, he taught courses at Maryland Institute College of Arts and Duke University. He also served as the director of adult and academic programs at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

A search committee, comprising faculty members from several departments, staff from the Robert Frost Library and two students, began working in fall 2014 to replace Barker, who had held the position since 2007. Barker is now director of the Boston Athenæum, which is an independent library.

Rosemary Frehe ’17, one of the two students on the search committee, said that the committee met once a week during the fall semester and narrowed down its list to three possible candidates, who then traveled to Amherst during the spring semester to be interviewed by the committee and to hold open meet and greet events with faculty and students.

Frehe said that the committee was searching for candidates who were committed to research but also able to engage with students and other members of the community. The new director also needed to have experience teaching in a college setting and have published works that showed good research skills.

Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein wrote in a campus-wide email in May that Little “has extensive experience using art collections for educational and curricular goals, and has proven himself an adept administrator and fundraiser.”

Frehe said that another reason for choosing Little was to increase the museum’s involvement in contemporary art, including photography, in order to attract more students to the Mead. She said that Little had extensive connections to photographers and institutions with a focus on contemporary art, and could use them to bring new programs and events to the museum.

Little’s career in the arts began during his undergraduate years at Bowdoin College, where he arrived planning to become a lawyer, but changed paths when he was inspired by a course in 19th-century art.

“Art brings together all the different disciplines,” Little said. “You have science, music and literature, and they sort of all come together within the visual arts.”

After taking a few courses in photography, Little eventually decided that painting was his preferred mode of expression, and painted throughout college.

He ended up getting a bachelor’s degree in art history from Bowdoin, a master’s degree from Williams College, and a doctorate degree from Duke University. Little said that despite his earlier creative efforts, he no longer produces his own work.

“I don’t want to be one of those curators or artists who are thinking about their own work when they are analyzing someone else’s,” Little said. “To be a serious painter, you really have to dedicate yourself full time, and that was very clear to me early on and I needed to make a choice whether to be a scholar or curator or if I was going to be an artist.”

Little is currently working on what he describes as a “small essay” about a collection of portraits depicting the backs of the heads of famous people, including John F. Kennedy, Mike Tyson and Elvis Presley. The essay will examine the implications of subverting standard methods of portraiture.

Little said he hopes to give the arts a more lively presence in the Amherst community, as well as take advantage of the academic opportunities offered by a college museum. He plans to spend his first few months as director getting to know the faculty, students and staff at the college, before working on implementing the ideas that he is bringing to the museum.

“I think the whole idea of what a museum is and how it can behave has changed a great deal.” Little said. “The close study of art will be central, but I am also hoping there is some way the Mead can work with other faculties and departments and bring ideas about art actually onto the campus itself and into the classroom so there is an opening up of art on the Amherst campus.”