Montclair Art Museum Forges Ahead Under Leader Lora Urbanelli
How does a suburban art museum that sits in the shadows of Manhattan’s prestigious cultural institutions compete with its larger, glamorous neighbor? By recognizing “who we are, and who we are not,” explains Lora Urbanelli, the smart, dynamic director of the Montclair Art Museum (MAM) in New Jersey. “We make it clear we don’t intend to compete with Manhattan, which is a treasure as well as a challenge. We can serve the local community and satisfy many needs right here.” An important regional art center with an international reputation, the museum has been redefining its mission to be about making art as well as exhibiting it and to include a greater focus on contemporary art (it just hired its first curator of contemporary art).
To further the goal of making art, MAM’s Yard School of Art has been brought to greater prominence with an impressive array of courses and workshops. Organized around four semesters that include a very popular eight-week Summer Art Camp (enrollment this year, 701 students), courses range from ceramics, painting and illustration to digital media (music production, animation, photography, video game design), fashion creation and comic book making. Instructors include artists from the community as well as the museum’s art school faculty.
Urbanelli believes that making art, which stimulates both sides of the brain, is an important aspect of “whole child education.” She explains, “Kids who learn to dance do better in business. … Those who learn to express themselves visually are better people.” She believes developing the patience and pacing skills needed to read visual clues is more important than ever in this age of rapid stimulus and instant response. Children should be introduced to museums with short visits that focus on one piece of art that has special appeal or a particular connection to everyday life, advises Urbanelli.
MAM’s new focus on contemporary work is part of an effort to “link art to contemporary life in a global context” and to tap into the worldwide network of art. Urbanelli wants her museum to “appeal to everyone in some way,” whether toddlers or seniors, sophisticated museum-goers or newcomers to art. “I’m very keen to visitors in that sense. They come in to learn, be stimulated, be transported,” she said. Visitors will always see the permanent collection, which is particularly strong on 18th and 19th century American art. The collection includes paintings by Montclair native George Inness, a large collection of traditional and contemporary American-Indian art, and modern and contemporary works.
Opening on September 28 are “Georgia O’ Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam, and the Land” and “Saya Woolfalk: The Empathics,” a multimedia exhibit that is part of MAM’s New Directions in American Art series. #