Fogelman Brings Vibrancy to Gardner Museum

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Written by Rebecca Jahnke

By Rebecca Jahnke
BU News Service

BOSTON – Peggy Fogelman continues to develop plans for expanding and engaging the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum’s audience one month in as the museum’s new Norma Jean Calderwood director.

Stephen Kidder, president of the Gardner’s Board of Trustees, said Fogelman’s contributions have met the board’s projections for how she’d do.

“It’s been great so far,” Kidder said. “We’re all incredibly excited about Peggy and the role we can have in Boston, and everything since that time has confirmed we’ve made the right call.”

Fogelman replaced Anne Hawley, who served as director for 25 years.

The announcement followed an eight-month selection process that drew from an international candidate pool.

Kidder cited Fogelman’s museum credentials and vision for the Gardner as key in eliciting the board’s unanimous, continued support.

“Peggy rose to the top early in the process,” Kidder said. “She has a very deep background in museum work, and a really clear vision on how we can engage and expand our audiences and make the Gardner an even more vibrant force. She also has this wonderful sense of the magic of the Gardner.

Fogelman is responsible for preserving the Gardner’s collections and for directing artistic, scholarly and educational programs, according to the museum’s specification for her position.

The specification also stated Fogelman’s operating budget is about $15 million, and her endowment is nearly $170 million.

Fogelman came to the Gardner from the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, where she served as director of collections and acting director.

Patrick Milliman, the Morgan’s director of communications, cited exhibition planning, digitizing of collections and analysis of educational programs for school children as Fogelman’s key achievements during her two-year tenure.

“We were sad to see her go, but the opportunity to lead an institution as renowned as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is something we fully understood,” Milliman said. “We’re happy she got such an outstanding position.”

Hugh O’Donnell, professor of painting in Boston University’s College of Fine Arts, said he hopes Fogelman brings the Morgan’s interdisciplinary approach to the Gardner and develops collaborations with educational institutions.

“What the Morgan Library undertakes is pretty great,” O’Donnell said. “They have music, history and scholarship. The Gardner is not the Morgan Library, but they do have a diverse collection loaded with historical references. They could team up with the Boston Public Library or universities to put that extra scholarship behind some of their exhibitions.”

Fogelman needs to preserve Isabella Stewart Gardner’s original collection, but also develop programs that attract living artists and speak to today’s communities, O’Donnell said.

“Isabella Stewart Gardner’s house doesn’t change, but in the big box they built next door, you can do all sorts of resident artist projects,” O’Donnell said. “There are a lot of artists that would like to focus on social justice issues facing some of our more marginalized Bostonians, and if you bring attention to these communities’ issues, it would make them want to come to the museum. You’ve got to start by providing something they identify with.”

Benjamín Juárez, professor of fine arts and arts leadership in Boston University’s College of Fine Arts, said Fogelman could use technology to make the museum more accessible.

“The museum has to be easy to navigate for a scholar, child in kindergarten, high school student and art student, and they all have different needs,” Juárez said. “I think technology now is absolutely something everyone uses. It can also be a very powerful tool at the museum. The possibilities are endless, and museums around the world are trying them.”

A guided, virtual tour on visitors’ smartphones is one possibility, Juárez said.

Fogelman is still developing ideas for the museum, but Kidder hopes one of her focus areas is attracting college students.

“One of the challenges is how you attract younger audiences and college students,” Kidder said. “Peggy has talked a lot about forming collaborations with colleges and universities in the Boston area to give them the opportunity to experience the richness of the museum.”

The BU Arts Initiative grants all graduate and undergraduate BU students free membership to the Gardner and several other area museums provided they show museum staff their student ID cards.

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