For her upcoming lecture, just like in her career, Brooke Davis Anderson wants to center artists.
“I’m going to be using the opportunity to frame it around the artists I’ve known throughout my career,” said Anderson, the Edna S. Tuttleman Director of the Pennsylvania Academy of Art Museum in Philadelphia. “My career couldn’t have happened without the artists I’ve had the privilege of working with.”
Anderson will be speaking for Chautauqua Visual Art’s second annual Leon and Gloria Plevin Family Museum Director Lecture, endowed by Cleveland-based artist and longtime Chautauquan Gloria Plevin. Her talk will air at 6:30 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, July 28, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch.
Anderson has been with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts since 2017, and previously worked as the deputy director of curatorial planning at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the founding director and curator of the Contemporary Center at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City.
For her talk, she hopes to impart upon the Students and Emerging Artists at the School of Art the importance of creating and nurturing a supportive professional network.
“I don’t mean for ‘networks’ to sound strategic and ladder climb-y,” she said. “I mean for them to sound meaningful to life and (the) choices we make in our career. Many of us, as (we) move on in (our) careers, have a constellation of networks that are regional and around interests and expertise and experience. … (My networks) have absolutely pushed me along and helped me out, and hopefully I do the same for folks who are younger than me and newer at this.”
Throughout her career, Anderson has pushed for more diversity in museums, not only in the art on display but for the staff behind the scenes.
“Museums are perceived to be these bearers of history and culture, (but) you really can’t be a museum doing its job unless you’re thinking about equality and inclusion and diversity in all of its different ways,” she said. “We’ve failed beautifully at it in America, and abroad, because some of the better-known museums — what I’ll call mainstream museums — were really founded on an art history that privileged the white narrative.”
Not only does a more diverse staff lead to new ideas and perspectives, it also helps museums to more wholly engage with their communities and reach out to people who have historically been alienated by these institutions.
“We have an obligation to serve our communities,” Anderson said. “If we don’t have a staff that looks like our communities, then that’s a problem.”
She admits that current initiatives and fellowships focused on recruiting young professionals are incomplete solutions. Anderson believes museums should work harder to create a diverse staff at every level.
“Really what needs to be happening is the hiring of professional, senior colleagues of color, so those voices are in the same room that the museum director or a senior curator or a VP of development sits in,” she said.
Although many museums, including PAFA, have been closed since March, Anderson recommends Chautauquans who want to continue supporting these institutions take advantage of the many virtual events happening around the country and world.
“(From) Western New York, you can tap into the programming from London and Philly and LA and even Australia,” she said. “That is so unusual, but we’re all really making our content available in a way that feels certainly new and pretty exciting.”
And of course, she urges them not to forget about who makes it all possible.
“Go find an artist, buy a work of art from them and support our artists, because they really need it right now,” Anderson said. “We would not have (museums) or residencies or lecture series without artists.”