Published: June 27, 2016

The art of giving

Contact(s): Devon Barrett University Advancement office: (517) 884-9547

For students in the Master of Fine Arts program in MSU’s Department of Art, Art History and Design, the Master of Fine Arts Exhibition at MSU’s Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum is a culmination of three years spent researching, reflecting and developing their artistic identities.

The juried exhibition is made possible through the support of donors like John and Susan Berding of Cincinnati. They wanted to make a gift in honor of John Berding’s twin brother Tom Berding and sister-in-law Alisa Henriquez, who are both currently associate professors of painting in the Department of Art, Art History and Design. So they created the John and Susan Berding Family Endowment, which helps facilitate logistical aspects of the show, and also supports the MFA Prize, awarded each year to an outstanding candidate of the juror’s choosing.

“Donors have made this whole museum possible, but their support is especially important for programs like this,” says Steven Bridges, assistant curator of museum, and curator of the exhibition. “The Berdings’ support of the MFA Exhibition allows us to give these new up-and-coming artists the experience of displaying their own work in the same museum that houses work by the great modern and contemporary artists of our time.”

Rachel Allen, Dave Johnson and Joe Wilkinson are three of the MFA candidates whose work was on display. Though each of their mediums are very different, their feelings on the Berdings’ support, and the opportunity it has given them to display their work at the Broad MSU, are the same.

“It added a degree of pressure,” Johnson says. “Knowing that our work was going to be on display here was a little intimidating, but it also helped me force myself to determine what my work means to me, and what I hope people will get out of it.”

Allen and Wilkinson agree, citing the resume-building benefits of working with a curator on a set schedule, learning the intricacies of installing their pieces at a professional level, and having photographic documentation of their work on display in a setting as unique and dynamic as the Broad MSU.

“It’s one of our most packed nights at the museum,” says Allen, who also happens to work at the museum. “Everyone from the program comes. Families come. The public comes. And it’s really fun to just celebrate having the opportunity and the experience. Just having the whole thing facilitated is amazing.”

It’s certainly inspiring, too. “I think we all hope our work will be back here someday,” she adds.

The MFA students form a close-knit cohort — it’s hard not to be in a discipline like art, which is as personal as it is revealing — and their excitement for the winner of the MFA Prize will be genuine. “We all know how hard we’ve worked, and how much of ourselves we’ve put into it,” Wilkinson says. “And we’re all aware of the student loans we’ll have to pay back. There is no set, established salary as an artist, so each of us has a need for that next bit of money to move forward and to help establish ourselves in our next spot. The Berdings’ support is a huge gift, and the fact that it is here for us year in and year out is really special.”

For information about making a gift to the Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, contact Douglas Moffat, director of development, or call (517) 884-4816.

Reprinted with permission from Empower Extraordinary: The Campaign for Michigan State University