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Establishment of the Charles Sawyer Center for Museum Studies

Charles Sawyer Center In a special reception at UMMA on September 12th the Museum announced a major new academic initiative as part of its building expansion project--creation of the Charles Sawyer Center for Museum Studies, to be named in honor of Charles Sawyer, director of UMMA from 1957 to 1972 and founder of the Museum Practice Program (MPP). Dormant since the early 1990s, the MPP has recently been reincarnated as the Museum Studies Program (MSP), which is to find its administrative home in the Sawyer Center.

Ray Silverman, director of the MSP since 2002 and professor of history of art and Afroamerican and African studies, warmly welcomed the overflow crowd who paid tribute to Mr. Sawyer on September 12th. Many friends, emeritus faculty, and MPP alumni were in attendance, including Brett Waller, former UMMA director who went on to the directorship at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and Steve Hamp, president of The Henry Ford.

At age 97, Mr. Sawyer spoke energetically about many leaders in the museum field nationwide who received their academic training at Michigan and began their museum careers in the MPP. Sawyer noted MPP alumni who went on to directorships at distinguished American museums including the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Toledo Museum of Art, and the Berkeley Art Museum, among others. Mr. Sawyer’s impact on the museum field was evident, as was the high regard and affection in which colleagues and former students continue to hold him today.

A Massachusetts native, Charles Sawyer began his celebrated teaching and museum career at the Addison Gallery of Art at the Philips Academy, where he acted as founding director. He went on to positions at Yale (his alma mater) and the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts, before arriving at Michigan in 1957 as director of UMMA and a member of the faculty. For part of his service during World War II, Mr. Sawyer was charged with reclaiming works of art looted by the Nazi regime. He holds honorary degrees from Amherst College, Clark University, and the University of New Hampshire.

“Charlie has been a wonderful friend and mentor ever since I arrived in Ann Arbor and I can’t think of anything more moving and important than recognizing his legacy at this transformative moment in the Museum’s and the program’s history,” said UMMA director James Steward.

If the current campaign is successful, the Charles Sawyer Center for Museum Studies will be housed in the lower level of the 53,000 square-foot Frankel Wing, adjacent to classrooms and a state-of-the-art auditorium. In addition to a dedicated student resource center, informal gathering space, and administrative offices, the Center will allow students to be in daily contact with UMMA’s collections, exhibitions, and professional staff. Since its re-launch as a graduate-level certificate program in 2002, the MSP has occupied temporary space in Haven Hall. It is an autonomous unit within the Rackham School of Graduate Studies—the only formal program to reside academically within the Rackham School—and offers students the opportunity to engage with the intellectual rigors of the museum field in conjunction with terminal degree studies in disciplines across the University curriculum.

The Museum Studies Program and the Museum of Art hope to raise $150,000 in order to name the Sawyer Center, as well as additional funds to endow the Program. For information about how to support this initiative, please email Ray Silverman at silveray@umich.edu; for additional information about the MSP, please visit the website.