Tara Contractor ’13

The four years I spent working at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery were as essential a part of my Scripps education as any of my classes. I feel so lucky that I got to experience so many different sides of working in an arts institution, from being a guard, to cleaning textiles, to giving tours to trustees. I have particularly fond memories of all the hours I spent in the ceramics vault, listening to music and building foam cradles for the collection. (Though I still look back in horror at all of the times I accidentally set off the security alarm—sorry Kirk!). I’ve worked at a number of other arts institutions since graduating, but nowhere else exposed me to so many different kinds of art world experiences.

Scripps gave me my first opportunities to work on exhibitions, and helped me to consider curatorial work as a potential career path. I still feel proud of the exhibition of nineteenth-century shawls and fashion plates I organized for the Clark Humanities Museum, and feel so grateful that I got to research that exhibition in the UK with the support of a Johnson Summer Research Grant. That was my first time travelling abroad alone, and it did a lot for my confidence.

After Scripps, I continued my studies in London at the Courtauld Institute with the help of the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Scholarship. I probably would not have been able to pursue a Master’s degree without this support, and I feel incredibly grateful to Williamson Gallery Director Mary MacNaughton for encouraging me to apply. At the Courtauld, I studied with Caroline Arscott, in the special option “The Aesthetic Body: British Art 1860-1900,” which looked closely at intersections between Victorian art, literature, and science. This kind of interdisciplinary work felt like the natural continuation of my studies at Scripps. The opportunity to live in London was such a gift. One of my best experiences was an internship at the Royal Academy of Arts Magazine, which allowed me to attend press previews for exhibitions and interview artists.

After the Courtauld, I got a Samuel H. Kress Fellowship at the Bruce Museum (where I worked closely with Susan Ball ’69—it’s a small world!). My experiences at the Bruce Museum convinced me that I wanted to pursue a career as a curator, so I decided to go back to school and was accepted to the PhD program at Yale. One of the highlights of my time at Yale has been the opportunity to co-curate the exhibition Unto this Last: 200 Years of John Ruskin (Yale Center for British Art September 5 – December 3 2019; Watts Gallery, UK Spring 2020). I was also able to intern at the Brooklyn Museum while working on the PhD, which was a wonderful way to stay involved in museums and be exposed to really interesting, socially conscious exhibitions.

Next month, I start a new job as the Assistant Curator of European Painting and Sculpture at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I’m tremendously excited for this next chapter, and know I’ll be relying on my Scripps education every day.