Q&A with Anne Helmreich, new College of Fine Arts Dean

The former Getty Foundation officer shares her perspective on passionate arts students, partnerships with Fort Worth museums and more.

Anne Helmreich, TCU College of Fine Arts, TCU COFA, Getty Foundation, Victorian painting

Anne Helmreich: "Universities, art museums and art foundations share the goal of advancing knowledge and appreciation of the arts."

Q&A with Anne Helmreich, new College of Fine Arts Dean

The former Getty Foundation officer shares her perspective on passionate arts students, partnerships with Fort Worth museums and more.

The new dean started her post in August, after serving as senior program officer at the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles. This is the art historian’s second stint at TCU. Helmreich taught art and art history from 1996 to 2003 and specializes in 19th century works and the digital humanities.


You came to TCU as dean of the College of Fine Arts in August of 2015. What have you learned about the College of Fine Arts you didn’t know before? What’s surprised you?
I have so enjoyed getting to know our faculty and students and what motivates, engages, and drives them. One of my biggest surprises is how active our College is – there are nearly 300 events held every academic year by the College.  And I will say, at every event I have attended – every exhibition, play, dance concert, or musical performance—I am blown away by the quality and excellence of our students and faculty. It’s truly inspiring.

You also worked at TCU in the College as an assistant and associate professor in the Art and Art History department (now the School of Art) from 1996-2003. What have been some of the biggest changes that you have noticed after coming back?
The biggest change I have observed is the campus itself – there are so many new buildings and a new sense of how the various components of the university work together. I had a meeting shortly after I arrived on campus and the email said it would be held in BLUU and I truly had to google to find out what BLUU stood for and where it is! It’s a really exciting change and I am looking forward to more thoughtful additions to our campus buildings, including new buildings for our Interior Design & Fashion Merchandising and Music programs and renovations for our Theatre programs.

What’s different about being on a college campus versus a museum or arts foundation?
Universities, art museums and art foundations share the goal of advancing knowledge and appreciation of the arts. At first glance, universities would appear to be different or unique in their focus on young people – and, indeed, my brainstorm discussion with TCU students during my job interview was a deciding factor for me because they were so passionate about the arts and innovative in their thinking. But, in fact, art museums and arts foundations are also concerned about young people and how we can build and sustain the next generation of artists and arts professionals, and how we can ensure that the next generation reflects the broader demographics of the United States.

What do you envision as the future of the College of Fine Arts? What are the challenges and opportunities ahead for the college?
The University’s strategic plan, Vision in Action, provides an excellent roadmap for the College’s future directions. TCU’s emphasis on a rigorous “person-centered” experience is ideal for the arts in which our faculty work closely, often one-on-one, with students to nature their talents and ensure their professional development. We will continue to recruit and retain promising faculty and students and, for the latter goal, scholarships will continue to play a decisive difference. We will continue to pursue the outstanding facilities and the appropriate technology needed for a twenty-first century arts curriculum. We will continue to deepen and to strengthen our partnerships with arts and culture organizations and relevant industries in our region as well as to broaden our global reach with meaningful engagement.

Fort Worth has wonderful museums. What do you enjoy seeing when you visit?
An art historian’s greatest pleasures is how works of art come to feel like old friends because one visits with them again and again. So I always enjoy getting a chance to become reacquainted with old friends and being surprised by things I may have never noticed before. Our museums also present excellent special exhibitions and I look forward to seeing, this spring, the Amon Carter Museum’s American Epics:  Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood and the Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art’s Frank Stella:  A Retrospective.

How should universities and museums work together?
Universities and museums both share a desire to advance scholarship and engage audiences and these shared goals can lead to dynamic partnerships. TCU, for example, recently forged a newagreement with the Amon Carter Museum that resulted in a shared, three-year position, now held by Joy Jeehye Kim (Ph.D. Yale University), whereby Kim will spend part of her time at the museum on projects related to the presentation and interpretation of the museum’s photograph collection and the rest of her time at the university teaching students courses on the history of photography as well as the introduction to art history. In addition to building bridges through sharing faculty expertise, museums and universities are working together around public programs.Just this fall, TCU art historians presented lectures at the Kimbell Art Museum and the Meadows Museum and several School of Music faculty members participated in a program at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth organized by the Cliburn. Universities and museums also share an interest in developing the next generation of arts professionals and we are delighted by the internship opportunities offered to our students by our colleagues in the museum community and are grateful for their mentorship. I am also looking forward to exploring ways in which the university and museums can explore together how we can use new technologies to advance our missions.


Who is your favorite artist? Why?
I am so curious about art and when I see a well-executed exhibition that engages my curiosity I tend to become a fan of that artist. The Kimbell Art Museum’s recent exhibition Gustave Caillebotte:  The Painter’s Eye made me see his paintings in a new way and I was particularly intrigued by his dynamic representation of spatial and familial relationships. I am also intrigued by creators who might never have been considered artists such as one of the inventors of photography W. H. Fox-Talbot, whose early photographs may seem like ghostly presences when compared to today’s digital images but are compelling traces of light from nearly 100 years ago.

What is your favorite place to travel? Why?
I enjoy traveling so much. As an art historian, I am always interested in the art and culture of other places, and I have a long list of places that I would like to visit, including India and Turkey. But one of my favorite places to visit is London because it is a cosmopolitan city with wonderful museums and archives that I have come to know well through my research. I was fortunate to teach at TCU’s London Center in 2003 and enjoyed sharing my love of the city and its art with TCU students.

Your publishing area includes garden history and landscape painting. How did you get interested in those areas of art? What is it about art that prompted you to make it your life’s work?
One of humanity’s most significant relationships is with nature. We depend on our environment for our survival and are charged with caring for it. Art is a critically important way that this relationship is expressed – how we represent and shape the land reveals a great deal about our values and concepts. I became interested in garden history when studying British landscape painting and garden design and learned how Britons, around the turn of the last century, regarded gardens as ideal symbols of the nation’s identity. Here in the United States, our western ‘wilderness’, now preserved in places like Yosemite, is critically important to our sense of ourselves and has been the subject of painters and photographers for over one hundred years. Indeed, Carleton Watkins’ photographs of Yosemite helped persuade President Lincoln to set aside the land from development via the Yosemite Valley Grant Act.

How is social networking related to analyzing and visualizing 19th century art markets?
You clearly found my co-authored article, “Local/Global:  Mapping Nineteenth-Century London’s Art Market, “ Nineteenth Century Art Worldwide (2012), written with Pamela Fletcher (Bowdoin College) and which won the 2015 ARIAH prize for Online Publication from the Association of Research Institutes in Art History. The art market, I argue, can be understood as a series of relationships – between artist, buyer, and the middleperson or dealer—that can be analyzed using social network analysis tools. Using these computational and digital tools allows the scholar to analyze large data sets and thus be able to identify changing historical patterns. In my case, I discovered the critically important role London played in the development of an international art market.

You have expressed an interest in the “Digital Landscape” in some of your work. You wrote “An Art Historians Journey into the Digital Landscape.” How do you plan on incorporating that into the College and why do you think it’s important?
You are referring here to a lecture I presented at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, in 2012 as part of a larger conversation about how the digital technologies offer new research opportunities in the humanities and, for art history, innovative approaches to both investigation as well as presentation. Thinking through these topics is critically important today because students and audiences are becoming increasingly digitally savvy – readers, for example, now expect to find content online. We need to make sure our students know how to use the new tools afforded by the digital age intelligently and critically, including recognizing the types of problems best solved through digital tools and when the digital may not be the right approach.

You have previously worked at Case Western Reserve University and the Getty Foundation. What have you taken away from those experiences and how do you plan on applying it to your new position?
I could probably write an entire article just answering this question. I am so grateful for the experiences I had as an Associate Professor of Art History at CWRU, working with the joint program with the Cleveland Museum of Art, and as Director of the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities. I learned so much from my colleagues and visiting experts. Likewise, as Senior Program Officer at the Getty Foundation I learned so much from my colleagues at the Getty as well as our grantees with whom I worked closely. In all of these positions, my role demanded that I bridge between the university and partnering institutions (universities, art museums, and arts and culture organizations) and that experience will be invaluable here given the significance of such community engagement for our College. More specifically, while at the Getty, I oversaw for several years our Multicultural Undergraduate Internship program at the Getty Center and Getty Villa and I look forward to applying what I learned from that experience to strengthening our professional development opportunities for our students. I also worked on a global initiative, Connecting Art Histories, and look forward to shaping the College’s international profile. At Case Western Reserve University, I co-chaired a campus-wide initiative to develop innovative programs in support of Culture, Creativity, and Design and this promising area of inquiry is also ideally suited for TCU given our engagement with innovative curricula and community partnerships. TCU’s forward-looking vision offers our College many opportunities to flourish.