Art History Professor Brian Curran to be honored with symposium

Brian Curran at the 2015 Commencement Reception for Arts & Architecture Credit: Stephanie Swindle / Penn StateCreative Commons

A Festschrift Symposium to honor Brian Curran, professor of art history, will be held by alumni, students, and faculty of the Department of Art History 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, in 112 Borland Building on the University Park campus of Penn State. The event is free and open to the public.

Since joining the faculty at Penn State in 1997, Curran has supervised the work of more than a dozen doctoral students and scores of masters’ theses, and has served on the committees of numerous Penn State graduate students. Because of his role as the Graduate Committee Officer and as the professor of an introductory survey course, as well as his trademark Michelangelo course, Curran continues to be the face of the Department of Art History to almost 20 years of graduate and undergraduate students, despite his ALS diagnosis in 2014.

One of his former students, Jennifer Cochran Anderson,2012 doctorate in art history, decided to coordinate the symposium after visiting Curran in January 2016.

“Brian and I were talking about preparing for the spring semester, and I was really struck by the fact that he was still teaching despite the enormous physical difficulty that it now presented him. Having had Brian on my doctoral committee and having served as his teaching assistant several times, I was already well aware that Brian is an extraordinary teacher, but had not realized the extent of his dedication to it, and the depth of personal meaning that it held for him, until that afternoon,” explained Cochran Anderson. “Having benefitted so much from Brian's mentorship and guidance over the years, and knowing so many others that have as well, I wanted to do something that would have meaning for him in return.”

In academia, a Festschrift is a tribute by former students honoring a faculty member. This symposium has been a collaborative effort between Cochran Anderson and the other participants, which include former graduate students Alison Fleming, Katherine M. Bentz, Jennifer Olson-Rudenko, Ilenia Colon Mendoza, Pierette Kulpa, and Douglas Dow, who are traveling to State College through their own means to honor Curran. The former students, now successful art historians, will present papers on their research with a reception to follow in 205 Borland, the Art History Graduate Commons.

“One can never repay their teachers – especially a teacher as extraordinary as Brian,” acknowledged Cochran Anderson. “I just wanted to do something that would demonstrate my gratitude and facilitate others to do the same. He changed the way that so many of us think about art, education, and conscientious political activism.”

Individuals have also been encouraged to send commendations online, which will be printed in the form of a Tabula Gratulatoria that will be presented to Curran at the symposium.

Cali Buckley, a current doctoral candidate and 2015–16 Fulbright recipient, shared her tribute on the site:

"You are still on my committee, but that shouldn't prevent me from thanking you for all you have done so far. You have been incredibly passionate in your professional life, teaching, advisement, and friendship," said Buckley. "Sometimes when I was working alone in Germany, I wished I was in the office when I could hear the faint beats of glam rock wafting from your office to awaken my senses. You are indeed an inspiration as both a scholar and as a person. I look forward to the symposium and seeing a bit of the scholarship you have helped spawn."

Curran, a recipient of the College of Arts and Architecture Faculty Award for Outstanding Teaching, the President’s Award for Engagement with Students, and the George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching, is overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.

“I was completely taken by surprise. To think that all of these students who I was privileged to work with over many years, and who have accomplished so much professionally and personally in the days since I worked with them, would take this time to organize this tribute, at their own expense, is something I never expected. I’m not sure I deserve it, but I can’t wait to see them all again and hear what they’ve been up to. To say I’m moved beyond words doesn’t begin to express how much I’m honored by their efforts. I really love them all and am so proud of them,” said Curran.

Curran’s uncertain health has left him taking each semester one at a time. He hopes to teach in the spring and to mentor and shepherd his remaining doctoral candidates through the dissertation process. Friends and colleagues have also created a crowdfunding campaign to help support Curran’s growing needs, as he fights to remain healthy and in the classroom as long as possible. His guidance and mentorship have come to mean so much to his students long after their days at Penn State.

“Now that I'm an educator myself, I think back almost every day to different pieces of advice that Brian gave me during my first semesters at Penn State when I first started as his teaching assistant,” said Cochran Anderson. “I hope that there is some echo of his teaching in my own.”

For the complete schedule of events, visit the Festschrift Symposium website:

To contribute to the Tabula Gratulatoria, comment on the website:





Brian Curran teaching his Michelangelo course this semester. Credit: Stephanie Swindle / Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated September 08, 2016