The Dartmouth speaks to The Hood's new director

by Alexander Rich | 10/30/00 6:00am

This winter, the Hood Museum of Art will welcome its new director, Derrick Cartwright, to the Dartmouth campus. Cartwright will finish up his tenure as Director of the Muse d' Art Amricain in Giverny, France, and begin his duties as Hood Director in January 2001.

Cartwright will be joining the Hood following more than two years as the first Director of the Muse d' Art Amricain. In contrast to the Hood, which has established itself internationally since its opening in 1985, the Muse d' Art Amricain was in its very early stages when Cartwright became its director.

"It was a total startup situation. Everything was waiting to happen," Cartwright said.

Accordingly, the time Cartwright has spent in Giverny has been mainly devoted to "building up the museum's programs and making it come alive from both the art historical and public educational view."

During his two and a half years in France, Cartwright saw the Muse blossom and establish itself as a serious French museum. Cartwright, who has a strong interest in 19th-century American art, had ventured into uncharted territory with the opening of an American art museum in Giverny, France, most famous as the home of renowned French Impressionist painter Claude Monet.

In contrast, the Hood offers a very different opportunity for Cartwright, who looks forward to the dynamics of an already successful college museum.

"I think the greatest challenge for me is that the Hood is already a great and respected museum. It is not just a college museum but also an art museum in the larger art world," Cartwright said.

Instead of building a museum from the ground up, Cartwright will be stepping into the role of director in a museum that has already made a name for itself in the art community. With the Hood's history preceding him, Cartwright's directorship allows him the opportunity to build upon what already exists in the museum and look for new ways to extend its influence.

"The Hood has a bright past, and the future should be as strong and hopefully stronger," Cartwright said.

Trained as an art historian, receiving his master's degree from the University of California at Los Angeles and his doctoral degree from the University of Michigan, Cartwright's career path to date has provided him extensive museum experience. From Los Angeles' Getty Museum to the Muse d' Art Amricain, Cartwright has seen the varying appeal of different institutions and their roles in their respective communities.

The Hood's collection of over 60,000 objects is unlike any of the smaller collections with which Cartwright has formerly dealt. For instance, as Director of the Founders Gallery, Cartwright was working similarly within an academic institution but starting virtually from scratch and in a very limited space.

"My predecessor had basically commandeered a classroom [for use as the gallery space]," Cartwright said. Under Cartwright's direction from 1993-1998, the Founders Gallery developed into a "serious exhibition space."

The Hood's already stable reputation does not provide the only change of pace for Cartwright from his previous positions, though. He commented that of any art institution the "university or college museum has the toughest job," in that it must attract several different audiences.

Like many collegiate museums, the Hood serves not one but many roles within the community. Of course, as the museum is intertwined with the College itself, especially in the sense that it is a teaching museum, Cartwright is eager to draw more students and their families into the Hood galleries.

"I would like to see students think of the museum as something to do in their free time, a place to count on as a good cultural experience," Cartwright said.

Still, the Hood's reach does not end with Dartmouth students. It also serves as an art museum for the faculty, the Upper Valley community, and, in the larger scheme, the entire art world. For the museum's new director and his staff, the chance to play to so many different audiences presents both an exciting opportunity and the often-difficult task of providing wide-ranging appeal.

"[In addition to the Dartmouth students], there is a public of faculty and people who live in Hanover; we need to engage them too. These publics overlap, and I hope to find that overlap in as many places as possible," Cartwright said.

Fortunately, the different "publics" to which the museum appeals are not so distinct from one another that common interests cannot be found. In addition, Cartwright believes that the community is fortunate to have a museum like the Hood, basing his assertion not only on his own praise for the museum and its collection but also on the museum's international acclaim.

"In the broader art world beyond Hanover, the Hood is a site of admiration. The students who live here are very lucky," Cartwright said.

Students may be lucky to have the Hood here on campus, but do they have the opportunity to enjoy its offerings? Cartwright sees this as yet another challenge he faces. The virtue of the Hood's being a college museum entails that it is part of a bustling college campus.

"There are so many other things competing with this place. We need to do an exceptionally good job and provide something of value to the learning experience," Cartwright said.

Cartwright has some general ideas of ways to entice more students into the museum. He envisions the Hood taking some more risks and perhaps surprising people with different types of projects. Cartwright also hopes that some risk-taking will provide the Hood's staff with new challenges as well.

As a new member of the Dartmouth community, Cartwright does not plan to jump immediately into any drastic changes. He plans to spend time listening to the staff and getting a sense of what direction the museum should move in.

"I don't presume that I can come from France and immediately know all the solutions," Cartwright said.

Certainly, Cartwright sees many possible roads to explore in terms of the museum's permanent collection and seasonal exhibitions. While the Hood maintains over 60,000 objects, there are gaps in its collection. This raises questions for Cartwright as to where the collection should be strengthened.

"Should we fill the gaps? Build on the current strengths? Or branch off into wholly new directions?" Cartwright said.

Cartwright is certain of one thing, though -- Acting Director of the Hood Museum (and Associate Provost of the College) Margaret Dyer Chamberlain will turn over the museum to his directorship in excellent shape.

"I feel I have inherited a seamless situation. Margaret and the curators have planned a wonderful exhibition program for the next few years," Cartwright said.

Interestingly, it seems that Cartwright may have sensed his own future here at the Hood about ten years ago during his first visit to Hanover. He came to Dartmouth primarily to see the famed Jos Clemente Orozco murals in the Reserve Corridor. His visit did not end at Baker Library, though. Cartwright proceeded to visit the Hood, unaware that ten years later he would return to become the director of the museum.

"I thought, 'It would be great to work there,'" Cartwright said, "And now, it's like a dream come true."

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