A Note from our CEO

August 31, 2022
Dear Friends,

It hardly seems possible but since my last note to you, summer has nearly passed. It will be Labor Day soon and you can already feel the winds shifting in a familiar pattern that leads to the crispness of fall. It has been a productive summer at the museum, and we have been pleased to welcome increased numbers in our galleries no doubt aided by the Connecticut Summer at the Museum program so generously funded by the state for the second year.   
Families lined up for Second Saturdays activities. Mark your calendars for the next one, coming up Sept. 10.
A new name on the masthead

Among the more notable events of the summer was the naming of Dr. Matthew Hargraves as the new director of the Wadsworth Atheneum. Dr. Hargraves has been with us for the past year as our interim chief curator, and his appointment was the result of an international search by the board of directors in which credentials of more than 75 individuals were considered. After two rounds of reviews, the selection narrowed to five finalists, each of whom was interviewed three times by different members of the search committee. The search committee used a 14-point screen to evaluate potential candidates in three principal areas: management experience, creativity and innovation, and passion for our collection. Dr. Hargraves was exemplary in all categories. A distinguished scholar, his interests span the depth and breadth of the Wadsworth’s encyclopedic holdings. Over the last year, he has proven to be an inclusive and collaborative manager earning the confidence of the staff. His vision for our galleries and exhibition schedule shows an inexhaustible well of creativity and willingness to explore new areas and approaches. 

Structured to innovate and endure

The appointment of Dr. Hargraves also marks the beginning of a new management structure at the museum. While in the recent past the positions of CEO and director have been combined, we have divided leadership into two discrete purviews. As CEO, I will continue to set the overall strategic direction of the museum and manage its operations, while Matthew’s responsibilities will focus on collections management, curatorial, programming, exhibitions, and the library. Both of us will sit as voting members of the museum’s board of trustees. It takes a lot to manage the largest cultural arts organization in Connecticut and this partnership favorably positions the Wadsworth for the future.   I am reminded of how far we have come since our founding. The museum first introduced the position of director at the turn of the 20th century. Our first was a gentleman named Frank Gay who previously had served as the museum’s superintendent in the late 1800’s. He was a much-beleaguered individual and in 1892—in a moment of obvious pique—he wrote to the trustees:

“I have at times personally done everything from taking care of your gallery and its custodians to burying the dead animals found in your cellars – from attending to your roofs to sweeping your sidewalks and mowing your lawns. I have waited on your distinguished visitors from other places and the intoxicated tramps of this city. I have had, however, no money to buy the smallest supplies or to hire the janitor’s work done.”

Yes, we have come a long way. 

Silent auction, big impact

Unfortunately, as Director Gay’s admonishment indicates, museums are constantly raising money for the next project or exhibition. This past year during a resurgence of the virus, we had to make the hard decision to cancel our annual gala forgoing a major source of revenue. In doing so we decided to move forward with an online-only auction to benefit the museum and have prepared an exciting array of art, jewelry, accessories, wine, and experiences to tempt you to bid. As I write, we are in the process of installing these items in the museum’s Hartford Courant Room for you to see starting September 8. Bidding is online from September 7–23, and objects will remain on view for everyone to peruse until the auction closes.

To get started, go to bidpal.net/wadsworth and sign in. If you enjoy a good bidding war, follow the competition for an item or cut to the chase and use the ‘buy it now’ option to swoop in and make it yours.
Artists Megan Stelljes (left) and KCJ Szwedzinski (right) installing the site-specific work at the entry to Fired Up.
At the cutting edge of modern glass

In mid-September, the museum will open a groundbreaking survey of 50 of the most innovative glass artists working today. Curator Brandy Culp has spent the last year visiting studios across the country to find artists who are truly pushing the limits of their medium. Over 120 examples of their most extraordinary works—many of which were produced specifically for this exhibition—will be on view on our third floor. Installation is in progress now and I can tell you it’s an immersive experience. Those of you who follow the Netflix show Blown Away know that glass has a major following and there’s a lot of buzz around this exhibition. You can witness the magic of glassmaking live when several artists-in-residence fire up a glass furnace in Gengras Court.

I’m so excited about this exhibition that we will refund the price of your admission if you are not—well, blown away.   

Membership is priceless

There is simply no better time to renew or upgrade your membership to the Wadsworth. You are going to want to visit Fired Up: Glass Today multiple times as it is just too much to absorb in a single visit. There is fantastic programming throughout the run of the show well into the winter, including those fiery sessions with our artists-in-residence.
Members will of course be granted the opportunity for private showings and tours, and premier members will have even more special access. Your membership means more than just free tickets to the museum—it is a real investment in our future, and helps fund programming and projects like By Her HandMilton Avery, and Fired Up, among many others. Please consider upgrading your membership to help alleviate the need for me to write a note to our trustees like Frank Gay had to in 1892. That is, after I finish mowing the lawn.  

As always, thank you for the support you show your museum.  
Best,
Jeffrey N. Brown
Chief Executive Officer