Women Aren’t Leading Nation's Top Art Museums; Connecticut Fares Better

When the Wadsworth Atheneum, America’s oldest public art museum, hired Susan Lubowsky Talbott as Executive Director in 2008, she was described by the museum’s board chair as “the absolute best person on the face of this planet to lead the way.”

Talbott, who will be marking six years at the helm of the state’s leading art museum, came to the state after three years as the director of Smithsonian Arts at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.  Previously, she was director and C.E.O. of the Des Moines Art Center from 1998 to 2005, where she formed partnerships with more than 100 community organizations and is credited with doubling museum attendance during her first two years.

Having a woman at the helm of a leading art museum is more the exception than the rule, according to a report by the Association of Art Museums Directors, a professional organization, The New York Times reported recently.   The organization indicated that women run jut a quarter of the biggest art museums in the United States and Canada, and earn a third less than their male counterparts.

The report also noted that “strides mamuseum leadersde by women at small and midsize museums” (often university or contemporary art institutions) where women hold nearly half of the directorships and earn on a par with men.  Just five of the 33 most prominent art museums are led by women.

Amy Meyers is Director of the Yale Center for British Art.  The Yale Center for British Art is a public art museum and research institute for the study of British art and culture. Presented to Yale University by Paul Mellon (Yale College, Class of 1929), the Center houses the largest collection of British art outside the United Kingdom.  Meyers has served since 2002. A Yale alumna (she earned a Ph.D. in American studies in 1985), Meyers was previously curator of American art at the Henry E. Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California.

As director of the Yale Center for British Art, Meyers has worked to strengthen the museum's role as a leading research and educational institute in the history of arts, while continuing its active exhibitions program. She has reached out to students, faculty and scholars to involve them in the life of the center and created a Preservation Committee to oversee conservation of the current museum site.atheneum

As for the other leading museums in the state, it’s reigning men.

The New Britain Museum of American Art, founded in 1903, was the first institution in this country devoted to collecting and exhibiting American art. The Museum’s collection comprises more than five thousand works and is constantly expanding in an effort to reflect our ever-evolving culture.  Leading the effort is director is Douglas Hyland.  Hyland arrived in 1999 from the San Antonio Museum, where he was director.  In a 2009 article, Connecticut magazine reported that “in the 10 years since his arrival, Hyland has doubled its collection to 10,000 objects. He has also doubled its full-time staff, from 12 to 24, doubled the number of docents, to 100, and more than doubled museum membership, from 1,200 to 3,500.”

The director of the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, the home of American Impressionism, is Jeff Anderson. Peter C. Sutton is Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Bruce Museum in Greenwich.  Bruce Museum offers a changing array of exhibitions and educational programs that promote the understanding and appreciation of art and science.  The Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London interim Director is James Eckerle. LAAM is the only museum in Southeastern Connecticut to offer a comprehensive collection of European art as well as American fine and decorative art: the permanent collection is comprised of over 10,000 objects.

Although not an art museum, prominent in Connecticut’s museum roster is the Mark Twain House & Museum, where Cindy Lovell, not yet a year into her position as Executive Director, has been characterized by a focus on Twain and education in her career.  After working for years as a university professor, she became director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home in Hannibal, Mo. Her next stop was Hartford.

The Times reported that women leading art museum with budgets of over $20 million across the country are Kimerly Rorschach, who was hired in 2012 to lead the Seattle Art Museum, Janet Carding at the Royal Ontario Museum, Karol Wight at the Corning Museum of Glass, Nathalie Bondil at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Kaywin Feldman at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Photos:  Susan Lubowsky Talbott (left) and Amy Meyers; Wadsworth Atheneum.

Museum Retailers Headed to Hartford for National Conference

What do Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Chicago and Hartford have in common?  Each has been selected to serve as host for the Museum Store Association’s annual Retail Conference & Expo.  Hartford will have the honors in 2015, having just been selected by the association’s site selection committee for their 60th Annual event.

The four-day conference, to be held at the Connecticut Convention Center April 17-20, 2015,  is expected to bring in 900 participants downtown, representing over 500 museums, other cultural institutions, and companies with products and services of interest to the museum store industry. Officials anticipate 1,130 room nights and 360 peak nights will be booked by attendees next spring.

It is the only conference and expo specifically created for retailers at museums, historic sites, botanic gardens, aquariums, zoos, libraries and more. The annual show provides a valuable opportunity for members of the association to network, learn and source vendors and products to complement their institutional collections.

Among the 11 institutions and nine vendors that are Hartford-area members of the association are the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Connecticut Historical Society Museum & Lmusuem logoibrary, Harriet Beecher Stowe House, New Britain Museum of American Art and Friends of Dinosaur State Park and Arboretum.

The Museum Store Association (MSA) is bringing its annual conference to the Northeast for the first time in more than a decade.  They met in Philadelphia in 2003.  Given the number of members and vendor affiliates on the East Coast - and especially in the northeast - the organization’s  leadership determined it was time to head east. Within an 11-state region in the Northeast, there are more than 200 institutions and 100 industry vendors that are members of MSA.

Stacey Stachow, President of the Board of Directors of MSA and Manager of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum Shop, was especially pleased with the choice. “Connecticut has so much to offer with its rich cultural history, so many museums and things to do that relate to our members.”stacey

It is expected that a Hartford-based committee will help plan activities that will involve the local members of MSA. Those plans will likely include educational sessions, networking events, tours to local museums, historical sites and other institutions of interest, and the organiation’s membership meeting and silent auction.

In selecting Hartford, MSA officials cited the convenience of travel, affordability, cultural institutions in and close to the city, and Hartford’s “pedestrian-friendly” layout as factors in the selection process.  Having a 4-star hotel interconnected with a modern Convention Center was also a plus.

MSA is a nonprofit, international association organized to advance the success of museum retail professionals. By encouraging high standards of professionalism, MSA helps cultural commerce professionals better serve their organizations. MSA also is focused on helping increase awareness about museum stores as unique shopping destinations for tourists and cultural travelers. The event features hundreds of booths showcasing the unique items for museum store and MSA-represented institutional buyers.

Jama Rice, MBA, CAE, Executive Director/CEO at MSA, reflected about the site-selection for the 2015 program: “I’d attended a conference in Hartford years back, and found it to be both charming and intimate.” Ms. Rice, who joined MSA in 2013, continued, “The area offers so many advantages from a rich museum culture to close proximity to both New York and Boston, a convenience for that concentration of institutional members and vendor affiliates across the Northeast. It’s also easily accessible to those traveling from across the country or coming in from overseas.”  logo

“We are excited to host the Museum Store Association for their 60th Annual Retail Conference & Expo next April,” statenew logod Michael Costelli, General Manager for the Connecticut Convention Center. “The program will utilize much of the meeting and exhibit space at the Center and we are confident attendees will appreciate the countless cultural attractions located right here in Hartford.”

Although this year’s conference in Houston is still months away, the MSA has already begun to promote next year’s event, highlighting Hartford on the organization’s website: “As the fourth-largest city in Connecticut, Hartford is not only home to the state’s capital, but it is the birthplace of the Boys & Girls Club, the first FM station to begin broadcasting in the world and President Theodore Roosevelt’s first automobile ride. An 18-square-mile city, Hartford is home to 125,000 residents, world-class dining, international cultural attractions and award-winning entertainment venues.”

In Hartford on Inauguration Day, Giving Meaning to Freedom

Convergence  is defined as the independent development of similar characters” and “a representation of common ground between phenomena.”  That is precisely how January 21, 2013 will be remembered by those who spent the afternoon at the Amistad Center for Art & Culture and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, programmatic collaborators on a noteworthy day. During a multi-faceted program (dubbed EP150) developed by the Amistad Center that included observations by community leaders and a range of musical selections, the landmark Emancipation Proclamation’s 150th anniversary was observed and celebrated, as President Abraham Lincoln was reenacted and recalled. (Including an in-character recitation of the EP.)

First, those gathered from across the region watched live televised coverage of the second inaugural address of PMLKresident Barack Obama from Washington, DC.  They listened as he declared that “preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action,” having reaffirmed his oath of office with two Bibles – one previously used by Lincoln, the other by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The historic Wadsworth Atheneum, the nation’s oldest public art museum (pre-dating the Civil War), invited the community in at no charge to reflect on the life’s work of Dr. King on the anniversary of his birth.  The day-long kid-friendly programming included a recorded video of the renowned “I Have A Dream” speech, 50 years ago this summer, played within sight of an audience of local school children – many of whom had just completed a special activity – creating visual remembrances (hand-drawn lunch bags) honoring the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown last month.

They were guided by Americorps Community Healthcorps volunteers from throughout the state.  Special collections inviting retrospection while invoking the memory of Sandy Hook were highlighted by the Atheneum, and musical performances drawing on themes related to MLK  Day drew appreciative visitors amidst the traditional and contemporary works on display.EP

The most poignant moments, given the intersection of historic figures and events, may have come in the poetic words delivered by about a half-dozen local students, winning participants in “What Emancipation/Freedom Means To Me” a competition sponsored by the Connecticut Civil War Commemoration Commission, the Amistad Center for Art & Culture, and the state's African American Affairs Commission, for grade-schoolers through high school.

Freedom, they passionately and powerfully described, is not only historic - it is personal.  The convergence of the day’s events was reflected in the eloquence of their original poems, which had been selected by a panel of local judges resimageponsible for reviewing more than 100 entries.

“Where Freedom Lives,” written and recited by Kassidi Jones, a student at the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, vigorously issued a challenge not inconsistent with that outlined earlier from the steps of the National Capitol.  A few phrases of her work convey the tone and tenor:

It is imperative that we all start shattering shackles

Incumbent on every man of every color to crack the locks of the barriers between us

Freedom will not come just because we need it to; we have to want it too

A balance must be established because justice and liberty go hand-in-hand

 And in whichever place the colors of all of our skins smudge into one people

There… there is where freedom lives.

The Amistad Center plans to add each of the winning poems to their website, www.amistadartandculture.org   The Connecticut Civil War Commemoration Commission co-chair, Matthew Warshauer, a member of the history faculty at Central Connecticut State University, served as emcee for the EP150 program, which was supported by Travelers.  The Wadsworth Atheneum's Community Engagement Initiative is supported by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.