The Lunder Institute for American Art: Transforming American Art, Furthering the Conversation

The Lunder Institute for American Art supports innovative research and creative production that expands the boundaries of American art. As a collaborative initiative with the Colby College Museum of Art, the Institute welcomes visiting artists, scholars, and museum professionals as they engage across disciplines with members of the Colby community and other creative collaborators.

Through the generosity of Paula Lunder, D.F.A. ’98 and Peter Lunder ’56, D.F.A. ’98, the Institute was established in 2017 to serve as a catalyst for research and creative production. Integral to the College and its multidisciplinary curricula, the Institute provides a platform for the Museum to develop scholarly and artistic collaborations and extend its engagement with the Colby community, residents of Waterville and central Maine, and national and international audiences.

Supporting the Colby Museum’s commitment to building a collection that encompasses the diversity of the American experience, the Lunder Institute’s programs amplify marginalized voices, challenge convention, and create opportunities for generative dialogue through art and scholarship.

Since 2013, the Lunders’ have donated more than 1,700 artworks to the Colby Museum, including works on paper by Mary Cassatt and Charles White, paintings by David Driskell, Alma Thomas, and Joan Mitchell, and sculptures by Ai Weiwei, Maya Lin, and Barbara Chase-Riboud. The Museum’s recent acquisition of a rare print series by Jacob Lawrence, one of the most important artists of the 20th century, has further diversified the Museum’s expanding collection. Lawrence’s The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, 1986–97, comprises 15 prints depicting the life of the leader of the Haitian Revolution. Paula and Peter Lunder purchased and donated the prints in honor of Colby College President David Greene P’20, ’24 and Carolyn Greene P’20, ’24.

“Jacob Lawrence is such an important artist, and he is having a moment,” said Carolyn Muzzy Director of Colby College Museum of Art Jacqueline Terrassa.

She noted to the Portland Press Herald that the traveling exhibition about Lawrence, The American Struggle now at the Met, has “drawn attention to his work and his capacity to convey in visual ways the stories of American history that are largely untold.”

Featured on the Museum’s website, the Lawrence series exemplifies the rich materials available at Colby for scholarly research, learning, and discovery dedicated to expanding the narratives of American art. 

Lunder Institute Talks

As a way to further the conversation about American art, the Lunder Institute launched a new series of online events in the fall of 2020. The Lunder Institute Talks features live, hour-long Zoom conversations with scholars and artists who are shaping the field of American art. Lunder Institute area directors Daisy Desrosiers, Theaster Gates, and Tanya Sheehan have explored contemporary questions related to artistic practice and new modes of research and collaboration with invited guests Naeem Mohaiemen, Hank Willis Thomas, Eric Gottesman, and Romi Crawford. Each conversation engages with artworks and/or ongoing projects related to the Colby Museum, including work by the invited artists. Information on accessing prior talks can be found below.

The last event in the fall series, Theaster Gates in conversation with Romi Crawford, will take place at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday, November 12. Registration for the free event is online.

Theaster Gates

Theaster Gates is Colby’s inaugural distinguished visiting artist and director of artist initiatives at the Lunder Institute for American Art. Throughout his three-year appointment, Gates has convened artists and thinkers from around the world and provided opportunities for students to engage in creative research around his projects. During his time at the Institute, Gates has continued to retreat in order to reflect and concentrate on his ongoing practice in sculpture, installation, and space redemption. 

A shared initiative by the Lunder Institute for American Art and the Colby Museum of Art, the 2019 presentation of his work The Facsimile Cabinet of Women Origins Stories–originally presented and commissioned by the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland–generated various opportunities for students and faculty to explore the thousands of images from the Johnson Publishing Company activated in this work by Gates and to discover the relationship between the artist and the role of Black Archive.

The internationally recognized artist grounds his practice in space theory, land development, sculpture and performance. He has exhibited and performed at Gagosian in New York, NY; Tate Liverpool in Liverpool, UK; Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany; Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis; Palais de Tokyo in Paris, France; Sprengel Museum in Hannover, Germany; Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland; National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., USA; Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada; Fondazione Prada in Milan, Italy; Whitechapel Gallery in London, UK; Punta della Dogana in Venice, Italy and dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Germany. He is a winner of the Artes Mundi 6 prize and a recipient of the Légion d’Honneur. In 2018, Theaster was awarded the Nasher Prize for Sculpture and the Urban Land Institute’s J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development. 

 In 2010, Gates created the Rebuild Foundation, a nonprofit platform for art, cultural development, and neighborhood transformation that supports artists and strengthens communities through free arts programming and innovative cultural amenities on Chicago’s South Side. Gates received the 2020 Crystal Award at the World Economic Forum for his leadership in creating sustainable communities. More about Gates is on his website.

Romi Crawford

Romi Crawford, Ph.D., is a professor of Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her research and writing explore areas of race and ethnicity as these relate to American visual culture (including art, film, and photography). She is co-author of The Wall of Respect: Public Art and Black Liberation in 1960s Chicago (Northwestern University Press, 2017). Additional publications include “Elements of the Gatesian Method: Contract Aesthetics, Black Bricks, and Extreme Collaboration,” in Land Art and Nothingness (Place Lab, 2018); “Reading Between the Photographs: Serious Sociality in the Kamoinge Photographic Workshop,” in Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Spring 2020); and the forthcoming Fleeting Monuments for the Wall of Respect (Green Lantern Press, 2020).

Videos of previous Lunder Institute Talks are available to watch online. For additional information about the Lunder Institute for American Art and the Lunder Institute Talks, visit