In Dana's Footsteps

Change is afoot! After receiving my MA in June and then spending the summer at The Munson Institute (an amazing, in-depth NEH Fellowship at Mystic Seaport - more about this later!) I have been spending time exploring my next professional steps. Many of you helped me brainstorm, research and make new contacts, and I thank you for all of those ideas. The potential paths led in many alluring directions, both thematically and geographically. But there was one that seemed the most adventurous and promising at this particular moment in history and in my career. I'm thrilled to say that come December 1st, I'll be joining the Newark Museum in December as Director of Interpretation and Program Evaluation.

Museum and library geeks will recognize the name of the NM's founder - one of our common heroes and the patron saint of relevant institutions, librarian and museum thinker John Cotton Dana. Dana's words on the role of museums in society resonate loudly with our conversations today, and the Newark Museum honors his legacy and seeks to live it out in action. In his 1913 manifesto The Gloom of the Museum, Dana advocated for museums that were central to their cities, easily accessible by working people and neighbors. He believed collections should hold not only fine art devoted to the "peculiar sanctity of oil on canvas," but applied arts, design, historical, and everyday objects as well. "Surely," he said, "the function of a public art museum is the making of life more joyful, interesting, and wholesome, and surely it can not well exercise that function unless it relates itself quite closely to the life it should be influencing." I couldn't agree more. 

 John Cotton Dana. Image: WikiSource.

John Cotton Dana. Image: WikiSource.

From my first conversations with the staff, I was impressed with the Newark Museum's commitment to this vision. Energetic and forward-thinking, at once historically significant and urgently contemporary, it takes its community position seriously. It's the largest museum in the state of New Jersey, and its most culturally diverse. A historic industrial and commercial center known in the first half of the 20th century for money and might, and in the latter half for economic troubles, historic uprisings, and community cultural and political leadership models that have captured national attention. Though Newark maintains a strong core community, it is growing and changing fast, as the New York City Metro Area continues to expand westward. New members of the Newark community include the HQ of audiobook company Audible and Rutgers University-Newark I have a lot to learn about this important, complicated and fascinating city. I'm looking forward to getting to know it (perhaps starting with a Have You Met Newark? Tour). 

The museum itself is a powerhouse. Its interdisciplinary collection is the 12th largest in the U.S, strong in American painting, Native American art, natural science, and history. The Tibetan collection is one of the richest in the world, centering on an altar consecrated by the Dalai Llama. I snapped the Instagram below on a visit a few years ago, never imagining my professional path might one day lead me back. 

There's an impressive historic mansion, the Ballantine House - and you can bet I'm salivating at the interpretive opportunities it presents for food and beverage interpretation. There's a MakerSpace that interactively connects art, design, and science - and even a planetarium. What a candy box!

As I arrive, the museum will be working on gallery reinstallations and on re-opening the historic front entrance on a busy city street, building a new team and establishing partnerships with community institutions - so I'll be jumping right in. I fully expect that the NM will present me with lots of thought-provoking experiences as we experiment with effective, important museum practice and develop new models for gallery experience, object-based learning and community connection. I'm really looking forward to joining my colleagues on a walk along the path from where Dana left off. Stay tuned for more!  

The historic front entrance of the Newark Museum, soon to be reopened. Image Source; NJ Business Magazine