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News Mellon challenge grant

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Students invest in art conservation, Mellon Foundation invests in their education
​​The Mellon Foundation has awarded a $1 million challenge grant to UD's graduate program in art conservation.

The Constitution, Gandhi’s cotton shawl, the original R2D2 and Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon have a common link in that all were preserved and restored by alumni of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, an esteemed graduate program that has enabled students to salvage some of the most important markers of global cultural and artistic heritage. 

Now, thanks to a $1 million challenge grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the University has something else to offer prospective students and future conservators — increased stipends, averaging $20,500. 

The Mellon gift challenges the University to match $1 million by Aug. 1, 2017. An additional $275,000 was awarded in spendable funds for more immediate stipend support.

“We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for their long-standing commitment to art conservation and for helping us attract the best, brightest and most diverse students while minimizing student loan debt,” says UD Provost Domenico Grasso. 

UD’s graduate program is one of only five graduate programs in art conservation in North America and one of only two jointly sponsored between a university and museum.

Each year, the University receives nearly 100 applications for the program’s 10 positions. Prerequisites include extensive coursework in chemistry, studio art, art history, anthropology, and at least 400 hours of conservation experience, though the average experience for successful applicants often exceeds 2,000. Students often must take additional coursework — beyond their undergraduate requirements — to qualify.

Before applying to UD, for instance, Michelle Sullivan enrolled in evening chemistry courses and took an unpaid internship to gain conservation experience — all while working full-time. 

“It is a highly competitive program, and we ask a lot from our applicants,” says Debra Hess Norris, Unidel Henry Francis du Pont Chair in Fine Arts and department chair. “In return, we give them the practical experience, critical-thinking skills, and experience in public and global engagement they’ll need to be successful in the field, now and in the future.”

Sullivan, a third-year student in the program, is currently working at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and will intern at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., this fall. 

“I would not have been able to pursue a career in art conservation without the stipend support,” she says. “This is an unparalleled education, and I am so grateful to enter a profession that I am passionate about without having to incur additional debt.”  

Gifts to support the art conservation program can be made online or by contacting Nekita Nesmith at or 302-831-0612.  

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A grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation challenges the University to match its $1 million in support of art conservation students.
​A​ grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation challenges the University to match its $1 million in support of art conservation students at UD, which offers one of only five graduate conservation programs in North America.
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