CASPER, Wyo.– Community stakeholders and museum board members were formally introduced to two shortlisted candidates for the position of executive director of the Nicolaysen Art Museum on Wednesday evening.
The two candidates shared their experiences in managing art museum budgets, organizing exhibitions and thinking about the practical value of art in communities.
Bay Area native Anthony Pinata served as a project manager for the Oakland Museum of Art for four years before leaving to pursue his own projects, including working with sculptor Brian Wall and completing two artist residencies. in Wyoming, where he said he felt at home.
Hailey Perry, a native of Pine Bluffs, has a master’s degree in arts administration and most recently served as acting assistant director of visitor services at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman. She was previously executive director of the Ennis, Montana Chamber of Commerce.
Former director Andy Couch left to pursue doctoral work earlier this fall. Current board member Andrew Schneider credits Couch with carrying the museum through the financial turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as articulating a pursuit of community engagement and programming “of, by and for all audiences”.
“We believe art is what makes us human,” Schneider said Wednesday. “We believe contemporary art inspires meaningful discussion about ourselves and the world we all live in.”
Both candidates have demonstrated an understanding of that mission and experience pursuing it in their previous positions, Schneider told Oil City News on Friday.
Perry spoke about her college experience connecting athletes with autistic students at an expo and said she would like to see more programs that facilitate interactions of otherwise disparate groups.
She also spoke about the role of art and wellness, citing work with occupational therapists and people in addiction programs in producing galleries dealing with mental health.
“It’s something I’m really proud of and will always remember,” Perry said. “And that’s a lot of work.”
Pinata said he has partnered with a Bay Area society to work with artists who struggle with autism and other mental and physical disabilities. The exhibition showcased their work alongside mainstream artists without such barriers.
“The point of the show was you couldn’t tell the difference,” Pinata said.
Pinata added that her brother was a prolific artist who thrived in arts centers but took his own life aged 21.
“It was one of the few places he felt comfortable and at home, and I would be happy to provide it for any community and anyone in difficulty,” Pinata said. “Art can help, but it’s a very complicated question.”
Candidates also shared stories of managing budgets and coping with setbacks.
Perry said she was responsible for half of the Museum of the Rockies’ roughly $7 million budget and the museum had already exceeded the admissions revenue target for the year. During the pandemic, she said she also worked on securing grants for a digital learning lab and renovating the Native American History Hall.
“One of my earliest experiences was having no money at all,” Pinata said of that time at the Richmond Art Center.
An exhibition had required large areas of the gallery walls to be painted, and Pinata said he found a professional contract painter among the museum’s volunteers who completed the majority of the job in one day.
“You don’t know who is sitting at home and who is ready to participate,” he said.
Pinata said that just months after hiring him, some Berkley Arts Center administrators resigned themselves to selling out due to a budget shortfall. Pinata said he and others avoided that by hiring a pro bono lawyer and city council members to secure low rent and launching enough fundraisers to engage donors.
“You need everyone you can get,” Pinata said.
Staff at the Nicolaysen say the search for an executive director comes at a “critical time” in the museum’s history, as it appears to remain sustainable and serve the community beyond hosting galleries.
“Although the NIC survived the pandemic, it did so with reduced staff, and it does not have the luxury of surviving solely on long-term donors,” Schneider said Friday.
The NIC Board of Directors asks the same questions of applicants that it asks of itself and the community.
“If the community wants to have this space, we need them to tell us what they want us to do with it,” Schneider said. “I would like it to tell a story that is relevant to our whole community.”