On April 6, alumnae and friends of Barnard College gathered at New York’s historic Plaza Hotel for Shaping the Future, the school’s annual Scholarship Dinner and Auction. The event honored recipients of the Frederick A.P. Barnard Award— Ellen V. Futter ’71, president of the American Museum of Natural History and Barnard president from 1980 to 1993 and Barbara Novak ’50, renowned art historian and Barnard professor emerita. Arthur Actress Greta Gerwig ’06 served as Mistress of Ceremonies
“The evening benefits and celebrates the remarkable young women of Barnard who strive to shape a bolder, better future for themselves and for the world,” said Barnard President Debora L. Spar.
This year’s dinner and auction raised a record-breaking $2.2 million. In previous years, organizers auctioned off glamorous prizes but this year, in a sign of the times, participants bid on actual scholarships. The change brings the focus back to education and the exceptional young women directly aided by the auction.
“Thanks to the continued support of our donors, Barnard is able to meet the full need for every student who qualifies for financial aid. It is so rewarding to know that we provide opportunities for some of the most interesting and diverse women regardless of their ability to finance a Barnard education,” said Nanette M. DiLauro, Barnard’s director of financial aid.
Photos by Asiya Khaki.
Ellen was born in New York City and raised in Port Washington, New York. She graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Barnard College in 1971 and from Columbia Law School in 1974.
As a Barnard junior, she was elected as student representative to the College’s Board of Trustees. During her first year of law school, Ellen was asked to complete the Board term of former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg. She was then elected to continue as a Trustee.
After graduating from Columbia Law, she began practicing corporate law at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy and, in 1980, took a leave of absence to serve as Barnard’s Acting President. A year later she was appointed President of Barnard and, at the age of 32, became the youngest person to head a major U.S. college. During Futter’s 13-year tenure as President, Barnard affirmed both its institutional autonomy and its relationship with Columbia; initiated a groundbreaking new curriculum; became fully residential for the first time in its history; and launched its first capital campaign, all as the endowment and number of applications grew.
For the past 17 years, Futter has been President of the American Museum of Natural History—one of New York City’s most beloved institutions, visited by approximately five million visitors each year, and one of the world’s premier centers for research and education in the natural sciences and anthropology. Taking the helm in 1993, Futter was the first woman to head a major New York City cultural institution and, as president, spearheaded the construction of the Rose Center for Earth and Space and oversaw the establishment of the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School. During her tenure, the Museum has updated many of its halls and presented exhibitions that address current issues such as the environment, human health, and cultural understanding. The Museum is now at the forefront of forging a new role for science museums in national efforts to increase science literacy and science education.
Barbara is one of America’s premier art historians. Born in New York, she graduated summa cum laude in 1950 from Barnard College, where she was trained by Julius Held, the great Rubens and Rembrandt scholar. She pursued her graduate work at Harvard, and produced her doctoral dissertation on the Hudson River artists, Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand. She joined the faculty of Barnard College in 1958 and married Brian O’Doherty in 1960.
After a long and highly distinguished career, she retired in 1998 as Helen Goodhart Altschul Professor of Art History Emerita at Barnard, where a chaired professorship was named in her honor. Long respected as an exceptionally influential theorist of American art, Professor Novak’s ground-breaking American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism and the American Experience, was published in 1969 by Praeger Press, New York. This was followed by Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting 1825-1875 in 1980 (New York: Oxford University Press) which was chosen as one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by the New York Times. Voyages of the Self: Pairs, Parallels and Patters in American Art and Literature appeared in 2007. All three books were published as a trilogy on American art and culture by Oxford University Press in 2007.
Barbara Novak’s 1987 novel Alice’s Neck explored attitudes to the Holocaust. The subject of her second novel, The Margaret Ghost (2003), was the nineteenth-century feminist and transcendentalist, Margaret Fuller. Her play The Ape and the Whale: Darwin and Melville in their own Words, was produced at Broadway’s Symphony Space in 1987.
She is an accomplished watercolor painter of florals, having studied at the Art Students League of New York, Parsons School of Design and the Brooklyn Museum. Her work has been shown at New York’s Drawing Center, and at P.S. 1; she has had seven one-person exhibitions. She is the recipient of many distinguished awards and metals, including the Woman of Achievement Award from the Barnard Alumnae Association; the Archives of American Art Fleischman Award for Scholarly Contribution to American Art; and the distinguished Teaching of Art History Award from the College Art Association.