In the four months since John Stomberg took the reins as director of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, he’s been overseeing, and raising funds for, the $50 million expansion and redesign of the museum, and dealing with an unforeseen controversy over the renovated museum’s design by the noted architectural team of Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.
He and the museum staff must also come up with ways to keep the Hood contributing to the artistic conversation in the Upper Valley and New England, even as it closed its exhibition spaces to the public this spring, and won’t reopen them until fall 2019.
So much flux has the potential to make any museum director antsy. Is a museum that’s closed for three years out of sight, out of mind?
It does go against the grain, Stomberg said in an interview in his office at the Hood.
“As a museum professional keeping museum doors open is deep deep deep in your DNA,” Stomberg said.
But keeping parts of the museum open while construction was ongoing proved to be too difficult logistically, and it would have delayed the opening even longer, Stomberg said.
So the decision was made to close the museum, and instead dream up other venues where the Hood could exhibit some of its art. The goal is also to continue to invite the community into the museum in a meaningful way.
To that end, Stomberg has a four-point plan for the Hood.
The museum has just signed a three-year lease to take over the former Amidon jewelry space in downtown Hanover and turn it into a gallery for international contemporary art that will be called Hood Downtown, scheduled to open in September.
The plan is to show around 10 exhibitions between fall 2016 and fall 2019. Gallery hours will be extended beyond traditional museum daytime hours. Once the museum reopens the gallery will close, Stomberg said.
The Hood will continue its educational programming for children in grades 1 through 6 in Wilson Hall. Although the museum is closed, elementary school students will be able to look at Orozco Murals in Baker Library, the art in Hood Downtown and public art on campus.
“It’s imperative not to curtail those programs while we’re closed,” Stomberg said.
The Hood’s website will expand the museum’s reach with interviews and videos, which will keep the public up to date on the construction and any new developments.
Finally, the Hood on the Road program will loan 48 works to museums across the country, including the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, the Fleming Museum at the University of Vermont, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, college and university art museums at Bowdoin, Yale, Colby, Smith, Williams, Princeton, Harvard and Middlebury, and municipal museums in San Francisco, Tampa, Toledo and Columbus, Ohio, and Fort Worth, Texas.
Stomberg said he hopes the museum will be as forward-thinking with community engagement as it is with the Dartmouth students and faculty who use the museum’s collection to learn about subjects that range well beyond art history.
“If you’re a college you really have to go the extra mile to say, come on in,” said Stomberg. Given the old town and gown dichotomy, the burden is on a college museum to go out of its way to make sure it is seen as welcoming the public.
“We put free and open to the public on everything we print,” Stomberg said. “But if your architecture doesn't reinforce that message you're really fighting against the stream.”
Stomberg, 56, is the first director at the Hood to have come from a college art museum, rather than a municipal art museum background.
The Hood’s previous director Michael Taylor came from a curatorial position at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Brian Kennedy, Taylor’s predecessor, had been director of the National Gallery of Australia before assuming directorship of the Hood.
Stomberg previously served as director of the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, in South Hadley, Mass., and before that was deputy director and chief curator of the Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, Mass.
“My whole career has been devoted to teaching museums,” said Stomberg, who grew up outside Boston and studied art history at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., before getting his master’s and Ph.D. in art history at Boston University.
After all, what’s a museum, Stomberg said, if not one of the world’s largest classrooms?
It was not always the Hood’s objective to be a teaching museum, Stomberg said. That approach was instituted by previous director James Cuno, who was at the helm from 1989 to 1991 and is now president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles.
“Experiential learning is the core of what we do,” Stomberg said. “Looking at a Rembrandt print in hand is an experience that can’t be replicated.”
And in a society that seems to prize visual information and visual style above all else, learning how to critically analyze such imagery is a necessary skill, Stomberg said.
The new Hood Museum will have the Center for Object Based Inquiry, which will feature three classrooms.
One of the advantages of the redesign, Stomberg said, is that it includes a security system that will enable the museum to open different areas, such as a classroom, to the public after regular museum hours without opening all the galleries and teaching space.
“Let’s allow the community to experience what a teaching museum really has to offer,” Stomberg added.
The controversy over the redesign, which emerged into public view at the end of March, was one aspect of taking on the job that Stomberg didn’t anticipate.
But despite the complaints from various quarters about how the Williams/Tsien design will replace or do away with aspects of Charles Moore’s original architecture, the time to make changes to the Williams/Tsien plan has passed, Stomberg said.
“It’s the right project, the right team and the right time,” he said.
At the moment it’s hard, Stomberg said, to look much beyond the completion of the expansion.
There are still approximately $10 million to be raised on the $50 million project. He has to report on the expansion’s progress to between eight and 10 different spheres of influence at the college and beyond.
It is a seven-day-per-week job, with emails flying back and forth, and travel to court possible donors. He is getting used to being the public face of an institution that is attracting some criticism for how it is altering the work of a much-admired architect.
But once the museum is reopened, Stomberg, who wrote his dissertation on the famed Life magazine photographer Margaret Bourke-White, would like to turn the Hood into a major repository of serious documentary photography.
He also envisions a museum that is open to the public in some capacity four nights each week, and a museum whose collection reflects the global nature of the art world, as new art capitals spring up outside the traditional centers of New York, London, Paris and Los Angeles.
When his two daughters were young, Stomberg said, he took them to the local public libraries in Massachusetts.
The libraries served as gathering places for parents and kids, for readers and writers, and as places where information and ideas were exchanged. More than just places that stored books, the libraries served the public trust, did the public good and expanded the public conversation about culture.
“I’d love for this museum to play the same role,” Stomberg said.Openings and Receptions
This Saturday marks the season opening of the Aidron Duckworth Art Museum in Meriden, which is now under the direction of Mila Pinigin, of Quechee. For the opening of the museum’s 14th season, Pinigin, who will be curating the revolving exhibits of Duckworth’s work, has chosen to focus on Duckworth’s use of color with the show “Color — A Theory in Action.” Guest artist Lucy Mink-Covello, of Contoocook, N.H., will also exhibit her paintings.
There will be an opening reception Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m. Mink-Covello will give a gallery talk at 4 p.m. Museum hours are Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., or by appointment.
The paintings of Mink-Covello will be exhibited through June 5; “Color — A Theory in Action” continues through July 24.
The Library Arts Center in Newport kicks off its annual Juried Regional Exhibit Friday, with work by 50 artists from the region. There will be an opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. The exhibition continues through June 16.
On Sunday, AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon will initiate its quarterly Sunday Soup program, which is an ingenious way of raising funds for community arts projects.
Here’s how it works. If you are interested in receiving money for a community-based art project you come to the Sunday Soup get-together with a printed, one-page description of the project. If you’re a community member interested in helping to fund a local arts project, you pay $5 ahead of time, or $8 at the door. The proposals are taped to a wall where everybody can read them.
Everybody gets bread and soup, made by Randall Szott, head chef at the Prosper Valley School in Pomfret. Then participants vote on the proposals, and the proposal that gets the most votes gets the money collected at the door. This is the definition of grass-roots, bottom-up fundraising.
The event begins at 3 p.m. The next Sunday Soup program takes place on Aug. 7.Art Classes
Printer and photographer Stephanie Wolff will teach a class on how to make your own handmade book in the workshop “The Printmakers’ Book” at Two Rivers Printmaking Studio on Saturday, May 7. The workshop runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and costs $95, plus a materials fee. For further information contact the studio at 802-295-5901 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arabella, Windsor. The gallery exhibits works by local artists and artisans in a variety of media including jewelry, oils, acrylics, photography, watercolors, pastels and textiles.
ArtisTree Gallery, South Pomfret. A show inspired by mud season ends Saturday.
AVA Gallery and Art Center, Lebanon. Works by Torin Porter, Patty Castellini, Roger Goldenberg and Jane Davies are exhibited through June 1.
BigTown Gallery, Rochester, Vt. “Director’s Choice,” a show of work by Varujan Boghosian, Ira Matteson, Helen Matteson, Nicholas Santoro, Hugh Townley, John Udvardy, and Pat dipaula Klein continues through July 9.
Claremont Opera House. Paintings by David Nelson, a Dublin, N.H., artist, are on view in the exhibition “Art is Visual Philosophy,” in the John D. Bennet Atrium Gallery. The show ends Saturday.
Converse Free Library, Lyme. The collages of Barbara Newton can be seen through June 30.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon. A show of watercolors by Marlene Kramer, digital art by Eric Hasse, photographs by John Rush, oil paintings by Emily Ridgway, and pastels, acrylics and oils by Gail Barton, is on view through June.
Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College, Hanover. The work of Eric Van Hove is on view in the Jaffe-Friede Gallery through Sunday. Dartmouth College professor of Studio Art Louise Hamlin has a show of “Garlic Scapes: Drawings and Prints” in the Strauss Gallery.
Kilton Public Library, West Lebanon. An exhibition of art work by West Lebanon students runs through May 31.
Long River Gallery and Gifts, Lyme. The Japanese-inspired works of Kathleen Swift are on view through Monday.
Main Street Museum of Art, White River Junction. “Odalesque and Other Recent Paintings,” by Daisy Rockwell, are on view.
Royalton Memorial Library, South Royalton. The exhibition “Louis Sheldon Newton: Architect Extraordinaire of Vermont” is on view through June 4.
Scavenger Gallery, White River Junction. Works by Stacy Hopkins, Toby Bartles, Lois Beatty and Ria Blaas are on view.
Tunbridge Public Library. “National Park Landscapes: Celebrating National Park Service Centennial 2016,” an exhibition of landscape paintings by Royalton artist Joan Hoffmann, continues through May 12.
Two Rivers Printmaking Studio, White River Junction. Vermont printmaker Lynn Newcomb exhibits her prints at Two Rivers Printmaking Studio through Saturday.
Norman Williams Library, Woodstock. “Vermont Is On Our Minds,” an exhibition of work by artists from Zack’s Place, continues through May 14.
White River Gallery at BALE, South Royalton. The oil paintings of Charlotte, Vt. artist James Vogler are on view through June.
Zollikofer Gallery, Hotel Coolidge, White River Junction. A show of works by students from the Center for Cartoon Studies runs through May 11.
Nicola Smith can be reached at email@example.com.