Emma Silverman

I’m here because I want a place to think about what it means to do publicly engaged scholarship. Because in the competitive, individualist context of academia the Public Scholars program creates a community of peers with whom to think deeply and collaboratively about these issues. Because I want to stay in the university and I’m committed to doing that in the most ethical way possible. Because academia is very good at theorizing politics on an abstract scale, and very bad at addressing the politics of its own institutions. Because I’m an art historian, meaning I’m located in a discipline that commonly addresses a public outside the university—nearly half of Art History PhDs go on to work in museums—yet must always contend with its justifiably elitist reputation. Because in the midst of the “Crisis of the Humanities” art’s excess to function resists the metrics of social utility, while also constituting a crucial facet of human experience.

This summer I’ll be working with the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods to help them preserve the history of Pond Farm in Guerneville, California. The site began as an art colony in the model of Black Mountain College, and later became the studio and teaching space of Marguerite Wildenhain, a Bauhaus-trained potter who fled the Nazis in 1940. The Public Scholars program connected me with this project, which immediately resonated with my identity as a Jewish woman artist and my experiences living on several different art collectives and communes. I believe that it is crucial to support alternative narratives of Art History located outside of the mainstream institutions of urban centers. While I do so indirectly in my own academic research, this project affords me the opportunity to work with a government organization to take concrete steps to ensure Pond Farm’s legacy, and to argue for its relevance to contemporary artists and audiences.