With a special interest in American and European modernist art and a passion for making art an educational, transformative experience, John Stomberg will begin serving as the new director of the Hood Museum of Art beginning in January.
Stromberg’s passion, extensive experience and collaborative spirit distinguished him as the best candidate among the more than 100 individuals considered for the job, Dartmouth’s dean of libraries and chair of the search committee Jeffrey Horrell said..
Stomberg, who specializes in American and European modernist art, said he is excited to work with the “big critical collection” at the Hood — which is geographically and chronologically diverse — and to use art to teach students.
“I’m passionate about teaching with art, and not just teaching about art,” he said. “That has been going on in a serious way at Dartmouth.”
The Hood has a strong tradition and reputation as one of the finest teaching museums in the country, Horrell said. Part of that recognition is how the staff works across disciplines, such as in the anthropology and Spanish and Portuguese departments, he said.
“The qualities [Stomberg] had in his extensive experience really resonated with what Dartmouth is doing and wants to do in the future,” Horrell said.
In his previous positions — which has included the deputy director and chief curator at the Williams College Museum of Art and director of the Boston University Art Gallery, Stomberg has engaged artists and faculty members in developing exhibitions and publications in a cross-disciplinary way, which will be exciting for Dartmouth, Horrell said. One of Stomberg’s exhibitions in a previous post had 14 members of faculty as guest curators. Stromberg promotes “team curating” within the arts, a strategy he hopes to bring to Dartmouth.
“That was representative of inclusive, collaborative curatorial style which I promote and firmly believe in,” he said.
Stomberg said his last two jobs — and the new post at the Hood — have been dedicated to bringing objects to life.
“I feel that objects have a life. Their lives aren’t static — we change what we think about them over time and they change in their significance over time,” he said. “My career has been dedicated to making sure that the rich collections have the opportunity to be reviewed and updated.”
Stomberg — who has a Ph.D. in art history from Boston University — will be coming to Hanover from Massachusetts, where he has been the director of the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum for over four years.
The search process started in late spring when former Hood director Michael Taylor left Dartmouth. The search committee was comprised of 12 representatives from many diverse areas around Dartmouth. Russell Reynolds Associates, a search firm based in Boston, worked with the committee in identifying candidates and understanding the strengths of the large candidate pool, Horrell said. Of the nine candidates who were interviewed off-campus, three finalists were selected and brought to Dartmouth to be interviewed.
Provost Carolyn Denver made the ultimate decision, offering Stomberg the position. She announced him as the inaugural Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s Director of the Hood Museum of Art on Nov. 4.
The quality of candidates Dartmouth was able to attract was “outstanding,” Horrell said, noting the interest of some international applicants.
“It says a lot about the quality of the work at the Hood Museum and the engagement of the staff with faculty, students and the whole Upper Valley community,” Horrell said.
Stomberg plans to take the Hood Museum to the next level in teaching. He said he wants to make the museum a place where students want to spend their time and hang out rather than just a research space, making the museum a “center of activity” on campus.
“It should never be a static place. It should always be an active place,” Stromberg said, noting his goal to make it a center of activity.
Stomberg loves working with students, according to his colleagues.
“Dartmouth has a long-standing history of having student involvement,” he said. “I love the idea of student curators and interns. I’m really looking forward to coming up there and working with a great community.”
Mount Holyoke College Art Museum curator Ellen Alvord said that in addition to Stomberg’s amazing ideas and incredible energy, he has a great sense of humor.
“He has incredible energy and passion for the work he does. He’s a visionary leader and team-builder,” Alvord said. “He really believes in the transformative power of teaching museums to promote creative thought and literacy. I think that’s something that will be a great match with the Hood.”
Alvord — who served on the search committee that brought Stomberg to Mount Holyoke — has worked with Stomberg for the entirety of his career at Mount Holyoke and believes he will do great things at Dartmouth.
Curator Kathryn Price — a colleague of Stromberg’s at Williams — also noted that Stomberg was instrumental in building exhibitions in a thoughtful way.
“He’s a true scholar,” Price said. “He’s deep and broad thinker.”
Stomberg said his true joy has been working with living artists. He recently worked with Ellsworth Kelly, the artist responsible for the panels on the side of the Hop — as Kelly’s assistant curator on a Matisse drawing exhibition at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum.
The Hood Museum will be closing in March for renovations. Programs will continue and students will still be able to work with the collections. When it reopens in 2019, the Hood will have classrooms similar to Rauner Library where courses can be taught with unique and rare materials. The new space will allow for courses to be taught more efficiently, Horrell said.
The collection at the Hood has incredible potential, Stomberg said.
“Even though trained as a modernist, I’m very excited to consider myself a generalist,” he said. “I believe that great art really can change lives.”