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NMSU Museum conservation program receives $1.2 million endowment

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A $1.2 million endowment from Candis J. Stern will sustain New Mexico State University’s Museum Conservation Program’s efforts to provide an undergraduate degree and hands-on experience in museum conservation to prepare students for careers in museums across the country.

The endowment will provide long-term support for NMSU’s program in the College of Arts and Sciences, one of only three undergraduate programs of its kind in the U.S. In addition, Stern is also providing funds for equipment and supplies and student support.

“This endowment will position our program nationally while providing needed funding for students, equipment and the lab itself as we look for ways to expand the program to provide conservation services in southern New Mexico,” said Julia Barello, head of NMSU’s Department of Art.

There is a high demand for these conservation jobs across the country. Director of NMSU’s Museum Conservation Program Silvia Marinas-Feliner points to a 95 percent placement rate of the NMSU program’s students in museum jobs after graduation.

“It’s useful to keep in mind that museum conservation isn’t limited to the United States,” Marinas-Feliner said. “I have had students going to England, to Rome, to Portugal, to Italy, to Greece, Brazil as well as all over the United States and Canada. I help my students to understand their opportunities are unlimited, that conservation is being done all over the world.”

Stern previously established a scholarship at NMSU that provided living expenses for students participating in internships like the one at the Smithsonian Institution and also allowed them to attend the American Institute of Conservation’s annual meeting.

“I appreciate the arts – music, dance, art – all artistic endeavors are fundamental to human expression,” Stern said. “Though I’ve been aware of the restoration process for many years, it became personal when I brought an outdoor bronze here when I moved from Michigan. Unfortunately, I didn’t clean or wax it for three years and it began to lose its patina. Someone told me about the program at NMSU. I then contacted Silvia. She and her students have been a blessing to me personally. NMSU should be very proud, this program is an important contribution to the world of art, not just here but across the nation.”

“Candis collects bronze sculpture so she understands, in a really intimate and specific way, the value of conservation,” Marinas-Feliner said. “She’s a remarkable person and a great philanthropist.”

Since 2005 more than 100 students have received a BFA or a minor in museum conservation or received a graduate Museum Studies Certificate. The demand is high for these courses. Marinas-Feliner now has a new, larger lab inside Devasthali Hall, the state-of-the-art facility that houses NMSU’s Department of Art and the University Art Museum. This new facility allows her to train 16 students – more than twice as many students as her previous lab could accommodate.

“A lot of my students tell me one of the main reasons they got hired was the combination of conservation theory and hands-on experience they had in my classes,” Marinas-Feliner said. “Training students that way is important and when the museums find someone who understands not just the knowledge of conservation, but also the practical application of that knowledge, they hire them. That’s one of the reasons students in our program are very successful in getting jobs.”

Students are getting some of that practical experience by helping museums in the region with conservation projects as well as internships at prestigious facilities like the Smithsonian Institution. A new partnership with the Smithsonian’s Latino Center will support NMSU museum conservation students interning at any area of the Smithsonian’s museums over the next few years.

“I've always thought that the exciting thing about the museum conservation program is that it's truly an interdisciplinary field of study and such a model for NMSU,” Barello said. “The conservation degree requires coursework in chemistry, anthropology, history, studio art and art history. Conservation provides a place for students who have diverse interests and skills to apply both scientific methods and artistic skills to the handling and preservation of important collections of art and artifacts.  I hope there'll be more programs like this in the future that can bridge traditional disciplines in the training of our students.”

Marinas-Feliner is confident the Candis J. Stern Institute for Museum Conservation will cement the future of NMSU’s program. “I am very grateful to Candis for all her support in the past and for the opportunities this endowment will provide for our students and the program as well the many museums that will benefit greatly from our graduates’ expertise.”