October 25, 2011  |  Events & Programs
MoMA Returns to Its Roots

My first painting in 20 years

Even though fall is upon us and the new school year is fully underway, I find myself reflecting on summer, specifically a new teacher program we launched. One of the highlights of my summer, MoMA at the Beach, brought together 15 art-studio teachers from the Tri-State area and three instructors to The Art Barge in Amagansett for a workshop focusing on painting, techniques, materials, and process.

The Art Barge in Amagansett, New York

Victor D’Amico, the founding Director of Education at The Museum of Modern Art, created the Victor D’Amico Institute of Art, also known as The Art Barge, in 1960. In 1955, under the direction of D’Amico, MoMA started sponsoring painting classes at The Art Barge. Victor had a great vision for a space to be home to these classes. He envisioned a place “more dramatic and reflecting the character of the environment-sky, sea and salt air, either a boat, or resembling one” (The Art Barge brochure). In March of 1960 D’Amico found his dream in the form of a retired World War I U.S. Navy barge. The barge was towed ashore and beached along Napeague Harbor in Long Island. With the bay at one door, the Atlantic Ocean across the dunes, and surrounded by New York State wetlands preserve, it is an ideal place to slow down and be inspired to create art. In the early years, D’Amico was the only teacher of studio painting and art-teacher training for K-12 teachers. Eventually other instructors joined, including his wife, the artist and teacher Mabel D’Amico. From its very inception, Victor saw this as a place for K-12 teachers to be inspired, recharge, and gain more experience and skills.

Participants listening to Corey D'Augustine's lecture about paint, inside studio

My goal for this hands-on studio workshop was directly in alignment with Victor’s ethos—I wanted to create a space for K-12 art teachers to be able to get back to their own studio practice and get back to the basics of painting. I am constantly being told by teachers that their own art making suffers through the school year as they channel all of their creative energy into their students. I partnered with Corey D’Augustine, an independent instructor, artist, and conservator who is also a regular MoMA Courses instructor, and Christopher Kohan, President of The Victor D’Amico Institute of Art. Kohan was integral in pushing for this collaboration and is a great historian whose passion for the barge makes it come alive when you are there. Together we explored the fundamental issues of painting and the connection between the physical and visual properties of paint. Teachers were given license to set up their easels around the barge or outside on the beach to work on their paintings. We concluded the workshop with a group critique in which participants were invited to share their process and answer questions about their work.

The teacher’s responses to the workshop were incredibly gratifying.  One teacher said, “Both my teaching side and, more importantly, my artist side gained more from this one full day than several years of district-sponsored Professional Development.”

It was so inspiring to see teachers so engaged and invigorated by the surroundings, each other, and their own work! As for me, I was so inspired that for the first time in 15 years, I was painting and loving it. We will definitely continue the tradition and conduct this workshop again next summer, and hopefully expand it from one to two days. The spirit of Victor D’Amico was alive and well that day!


I am so glad the NY teachers have this opportunity. I recently wrote my first real poem, after more than ten years without writing, so I know what it feels like to have a rebirth of creativity. I had intended to teach art in high school and attended NYU in 1970, only to be told my Regents’ fellowship wasn’t applicable for the School of Ed, and I had to drop out. You are living my dream.

We have a similar experience available in the UK called the Artist Teacher Scheme which encourages and gives support for art teachers to re-engage with their own practice. There is a series of workshops, studio and gallery visits along with lectures on contemporary practice and talks by other artists. I did this programme a few years ago and got a great deal from it – both for myself as a practitioner and for fresh inspiration for the classroom. One of the beneficial ‘side products’ was engaging with other art teachers and creating a platform for sharing ideas. Many of us went on to pursue our own work at Masters Level and now I am one of a brave few continuing our practice and research by studying for a Phd. I cannot recommend taking up these opportunities high enough.

On this dark cold wet October morning as I prepare to meet 120 students for a day of art, I look fondly at my painting of last summer’s Art Barge Experience and remember the reason I teach and love art.
I left energized, engaged and impassioned for the work I do with children as well as myself as an artist. Let’s do it again!

Aaaahhh the Art Barge-in a flash I am transported to that higher ground we call creativity. I try to recreate that same encouraging support that Corey gave us when we stood there confronted with our canvas to all my students and maybe more importantly to myself!This workshop has given me so many different takeaways- it was perfect. Can’t wait till next summer.

Please send me a summer class schedule. I need to become my own artist again!

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