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Wintersession Course: Cultural Philanthropy in the Museum Space

January 10–January 14, 2022, at Dumbarton Oaks | A weeklong course for Harvard students with site visits and guest lectures by experts in the philanthropy and museum fields.


Crimson Career ID: 139320

Course Leaders: Professor Thomas Cummins and Dr. Yota Batsaki

We are traversing a second Gilded Age where the rise of megafoundations in tandem with growing social inequality offer opportunity for philanthropic giving to exert tremendous influence. In the United States, philanthropy is crucial to several sectors, from education and the arts to the environment, science, and human rights. But philanthropy also impacts public opinion and government policy, ultimately influencing the provision of public goods in a democratic society. Philanthropic literacy is therefore an important component of citizenship.

Over the past two decades, the rise of strategic philanthropy has added to the pressure on cultural organizations to demonstrate their social value; yet the emphasis on metrics and demonstrable impact does not align easily with the long-term horizons of culture and the arts. The ongoing pandemic will likely affect the changing priorities of philanthropic giving while putting additional pressure on the financial resources of cultural organizations, many of which have had to close their doors and reduce programs and staff. Making a case for cultural philanthropy is as urgent a proposition as ever.

This weeklong course introduces students to the history, contemporary influence, and key debates surrounding philanthropy, with a focus on the museum space. While exploring the impact of philanthropic giving on museums, the course also introduces students to future careers and the behind-the-scenes workings of cultural institutions. Students will engage with theoretical and historical approaches and will learn directly for museum leaders and scholars of philanthropy through a program of guest lectures and in-person visits to philanthropic institutions and museums in the DC area.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Dr. Joan Weinstein, The Getty Foundation
  • Helen Chason, The Kreeger Museum
  • Dr. John Wetenhall, The George Washington University Museum & The Textile Museum
  • Dr. Amanda Moniz, Smithsonian National Museum of American History
  • Professor Patricia Banks, Mount Holyoke University
  • Professor Kathleen McCarthy, The Graduate Center (CUNY)

Both Harvard students at the beginning of their college careers who are interested in exploring new fields, and more advanced students contemplating future careers in the cultural, humanities, and nonprofit sectors, are encouraged to apply. All students will be expected to complete course readings and participate in lectures and site visits.

We are planning to host this course on-site but may switch to a fully virtual program depending on local and Harvard University health guidelines. Dumbarton Oaks will provide housing, lunch, and transportation to site visits and reimburse travel to DC.

Currently enrolled Harvard undergraduate and graduate students are eligible to apply. Interested candidates should submit (1) a résumé or CV and (2) a one-page statement detailing your interest in cultural philanthropy and how this program fits with your career goals and (3) one letter of recommendation to the Embark application by December 1, 2021.