Paintings and portraits line the walls and intricate sculptures dot quiet floors under the warm, inviting lights of the Handwerker Gallery. The gallery is popular among the Ithaca College community, with frequent visits from classes and art-loving students alike. Each exhibit that the gallery features is curated by its director, Mara Baldwin. What casual gallery-goers may not know however, is that Baldwin is an accomplished artist themself.
Baldwin was recently awarded residency at the Elizabeth Murray Artist Residency (EMAR) program in upstate New York — a prestigious organization named after the artist Elizabeth Murray. This artist-in-residency program invites artists, academics and curators to reside and work at an institution to focus and work on their current projects.
The program selects artists through an application process, where applicants are recognized based on merit and previous works. Baldwin said the residency is specifically for artists who are parents.
Elizabeth Dubben, director of the EMAR said the review panel looked at approximately 400 applications for the program and aimed to select a diverse cohort of 15 artists.
“The residency is a no cost residency, with full support: time, space, meals, artist stipends and childcare,” Dubben said via email. “For parent artists during our family residencies, we create a parallel creative experience in art and nature for children. The kids even have their own art studio!”
Although Baldwin has been awarded several residencies before, they said this was the first one that they had attended with their partner and their child. Baldwin said they felt recognized and valued as both a parent and an artist when they were accepted into the program, especially after COVID-19 shut down many residencies.
“It was awesome to climb out of [COVID-19] with this news, and especially so when my partner was offered a residency and stipend as well, allowing her to attend not as a co-parent, but as an artist as well,” Baldwin said via email. “Artist and academic couples get used to ‘taking turns’ and it was really surprising and wonderful to feel so equally seen, recognized and valued as worth supporting.”
Dubben said Baldwin’s application to the residency program stood out to the panel for a number of reasons.
“Incredible, quality work, serious yet playful inquiries, meaningful statement on why the residency would be important to [Baldwin’s] practice as a parent artist,” Dubben said via email.
Baldwin said the residency gave them the ability to focus on and prioritize their artistic practice because there were limited distractions.
“One feature of this residency is that it is in an area of Upstate NY (rural Granville) where there is no cell phone reception and basically no Internet,” they said via email. “I realized that the internet, though occasionally an unparalleled tool, also robs me of time. Lots of time. Getting that time back was invaluable, and I’d happily do it again.”
Baldwin said that although they do not normally discuss their personal artistic endeavors in the context of their job as the Handwerker Gallery director, their practice as an artist compliments their work at the gallery.
“The fact that I am an artist-curator makes me a better advocate for the artists I work with, in helping them realize their goals, helping students and faculty interpret their work,” Baldwin said via email. “ … I don’t talk about my own work much at IC because it’s not my job to be an artist– it’s my job to direct an art gallery.”
Paul Wilson, associate professor and chair of the Department of Art History, said he and Baldwin have worked closely together for 10 years.
“One of the things that I think is remarkable about [Baldwin], is that she gives both of those things her full weight over, you know, her mental and physical energy,” Wilson said. “She gives it her all as a gallery director, coming up with interesting, provocative exhibitions, and then also has this full fledged, artistic practice making her own work.”
Nala Gurung ’20 said she spent the entirety of her college career working at the Handwerker Gallery with Baldwin. She said that Baldwin has a talented eye for picking out guest artists to feature in the gallery and that she works very hard at featuring a range of different works.
“While I didn’t see much of her thought process before the exhibitions, they were always so different; there wasn’t one exhibit I didn’t enjoy in my four years there,” Gurung said via email. “Something that stuck out to me was the vast range of artists [Baldwin] would showcase at the gallery, ranging from gender, ethnicity, race, sexuality etc.”
Jake Torrey ‘14 said Baldwin hired them as a gallery assistant, which is where they came to notice that Baldwin’s approach to her personal artistic pursuits is similar to her approach as a gallery director.
“Mara works very diligently and thoughtfully as an artist — I’m always impressed by how detailed her work is across different media, and I love how inviting and playful it tends to be,” Torrey said via email. “Her approach as an artist is probably similar to how she runs the Handwerker. She has a very clear vision that she executes with a lot of precision and care and labor, and it always feels accessible and warm to me, instead of cold or elitist.”