This Week's Gateway Cities Leader
Cities are shaped by their citizens. From New Bedford to Pittsfield, passionate young leaders are spearheading innovative efforts to reinvent their communities for a new generation. The Gateway Cities Leaders series profiles their work and introduces their ideas, visions, and aspirations to the wider Gateway City world. Is there a young leader in your city that we should spotlight? Please let us know.
WHAT DREW YOU TO THE FITCHBURG ART MUSEUM?
This museum embodies so many opportunities. As a curator, I’m someone who loves to research, to write about contemporary artists, and to be an academic art historian. This position at FAM is so all-encompassing that in the best possible way it allows me to be a chameleon and embrace all of those roles. On top of that, I love how this museum is all about community. It’s a spot to learn about contemporary art and ancient Egypt (and so many things in between), but it also serves as community hub for Fitchburg, both inside and outside the museum walls.
This museum was founded by Eleanor Norcross. She was an artist born and raised in Fitchburg, who lived and worked in New York and Paris. Upon her death, she left money to found an art center in this city. She wanted everyone here to have same kind of arts and cultural awakening that she had in her life. That mission, to be actively serving the community, is alive and well today at FAM and it’s something I completely believe in. FAM is furthering that mission for next generation of folks in Fitchburg and I wanted to be a part of that effort.
WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF FROM YOUR FIRST YEAR AS CURATOR?
If you ask me each spring or fall, it’s the exhibit I’m working on at the moment. But I think the most fulfilling initiative thus far has been the museum’s collaboration with Prof. Rob Carr’s Document Design courses at Fitchburg State University. For four semesters running, these undergraduate students have created marketing materials for the museum and designed a web catalog for every exhibition. It’s been great watching their evolution as they grapple with ideas about what a museum show is, what the catalog should communicate. By the end of the semester, they’re able to deliver highly polished and professional catalogs. Lots of the students are local, and they probably went to the museum as kids. Now, we’re re-sparking their enthusiasm for art. That partnership is where all of my worlds come together. I’m just so proud and honored to be a part of it.
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO TAKING ON NEXT?
There are always a lot of irons in the fire. I’m looking forward to expanding our initiatives as we bring on more staff and figuring out how we can continue to creatively address various needs in our community here in Fitchburg, in North Central Massachusetts, and in broader New England.
We are able to be so malleable at FAM. We can really respond to community needs, artistically or culturally. We also want to continue involving Fitchburg’s large Latino communities. In the fall of 2014, for example, I shaped an exhibition called “One Language Is Never Enough: Latino Artists in Southern New England.” It was a sprawling exhibition on the walls at FAM for 4 months. It was colorful; it broke down stereotypes. It was also an opening gesture, if you will. At the same time, photographer Mario Quiroz worked with FAM Director Nick Capasso and the Cleghorn Neighborhood Center on another significant project. Quiroz went into the community, met with many of FAM’s Latino neighbors, invited them to the museum, and took their portraits. The resulting photos were on view at FAM for this past year. Those are two artistically oriented efforts with an eye towards community. We also made an effort to insure that moving forward, all of the wall text at FAM will be bilingual so you can experience the exhibits in English or Spanish.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE REWARDS OF WORKING FOR A MUSEUM IN A GATEWAY CITY?
Because of the great vision of our Director and the support of our Board of Trustees, we can execute our ideas almost immediately, freeing us to act on creative impulses. We can test and experiment a lot. We don’t have the same critical spotlight on us as a lot of other high profile art institutions. I think that’s a product of where we are in North Central Massachusetts and the fact that from its inception, this museum has been in the service of its community. We can go out into Fitchburg and in one meeting with a potential collaborating organization say “yes, we love that idea, let’s make it happen.” That expediency doesn’t necessarily happen in a lot of places.
It’s amazing to see how my colleagues from all of the organizations in Fitchburg have fantastic energy about this city. People are proud of this city. They have long-standing ties in the community. I’m so excited that the museum exists in pace like this, and I want us to continue to be a community anchor and hub for arts and culture.
SOME OF THE CHALLENGES?
We are in a city that has seen better times economically. That speaks to a wide variety of challenges. We’re in a place where people’s first impulse in their free time is not necessarily, “I need to go to the museum.” Another challenge is the barrier of perceived elitism when it comes to the arts. We’re making an effort to break that down and to let everyone know that they are welcome, that you can be creatively nourished, no matter what level of art expertise you have. That kind of conversation is especially important in cities like Fitchburg. We want to be a destination for everyone.YOU HAVE A DAY OFF IN FITCHBURG. WHAT DO YOU DO?
There’s nothing better than a lovely stroll down Main Street to experience public art and great architecture. Fitchburg has a cool Caleb Neelon mural and a terrific sculpture by Nora Valdez, which is tribute to the immigrant experience in Fitchburg. Those two contemporary gestures, coupled with historic monuments and H. M. Francis architecture make for an eclectic and lovely mixture. The Fitchburg Public Library and Fitchburg Historical Society are also both wonderful places for cultural enrichment on Main Street, entering either one makes you feel like a true part of the community.