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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Hood deputy director Juliette Bianco to receive NEMA award

Juliette Bianco_Photo by Alison Palizzolo[2].jpg

Bianco oversees the Hood Museum’s exhibitions.

Deputy director of the Hood Museum Juliette Bianco ’94 will be presented with a 2019 New England Museum Association Excellence Award today at the association’s annual meeting, where three other Hood staff members will also be presenting their work. Bianco oversees the Hood’s exhibitions and often travels to speak about the benefits and opportunities that museums can bring to college campuses.

Bianco was the Hood’s primary representative during the museum’s renovation. NEMA recognized the two essays she co-authored about re-envisioning the museum: “Stepping into the Composition: Collaboration as a Framework for Architectural Discovery,” which she wrote with architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, and “Creating the Ideal Museum Learning Environment,” which she penned with Chanon Kenji Praepiptmongkol and William Chow. Both essays are featured in the Hood’s new book, “The Hood Now: Art and Inquiry at Dartmouth.” 

In an interview with The Dartmouth, Bianco discussed her role in the renovation of the Hood Museum, as well as what drew her into and what keeps her dedicated to the museum field.

Why have you chosen this career path?

JB: What really motivates me to contribute to the Hood and Dartmouth is a strong belief in the benefits of collaborative work. And in this case, that motivation was understanding what an art museum can do on campus academically, socially and co-curricularly. It’s also the ability to listen to how a faculty member wants to engage with the collections, to listen to how students want to be in the museum, whether it’s part of their everyday lives or just learning from the objects in our collection in a class. It’s understanding how the staff and administration at Dartmouth see a museum fitting into the bigger picture of what a liberal arts degree means at Dartmouth. 

Why did you decide to come back to Dartmouth after graduating?

JB: I was given a wonderful opportunity, and I try to remember that and pay it forward as well. I’d been trying to figure out where to go, and I stopped by the Hood and asked if they needed any volunteers. A couple of staff members said they had some projects, and if I could help that would be great. Then the European art curator was looking for a curatorial assistant on an exhibition project, which is not an area of my expertise. But I jumped right in and learned how to catalog essays, how to research artists, how to keep track of loans, how to label slides — which is not something we do anymore — and how to send out information about this exhibition to see if other museums would be interested in it. And so I got this wonderful hands-on experience working on exhibitions, and that was my first role with the museum, which I still maintain in overseeing the exhibition program. But I really was given an opportunity at a very tangible level. And so I try to offer and support those same opportunities for students. I really think that I stayed because I always had the opportunity to contribute.

In your essay with the Hood’s architects, what did you discuss?

JB: The architects and I talk about decision-making from the Hood’s point of view, from Dartmouth’s point of view and from the architects’ point of view. When we’re talking about things that matter to us, we create a sense of being on the same page and how that winds up affecting the design. So we talked specifically about the window in the front of the museum, which is kind of this iconic window. How did we come to the decision that that was going to be the way to present the facade? What is it saying about the museum to the outside world when you’re standing outside the museum? How does it function once you’re inside the museum space? And how does that window, as opposed to a smaller window or a larger window, affect our ability to curate the spaces? So these are all decisions that, when the museum looks done, it’s hard to realize that every one of those components was a result of conversations about making meaning together — about what we wanted to deliver to our community.

Why was the topic of your second essay, the Hood’s learning environment, important?

JB: Right when the Hood was beginning to think about the expansion project, we did a session on it at a conference. The session was about imagining a learning environment where all sorts of things can happen. What does that look like? And how do you work toward that together? And the thing I liked particularly about my second essay is, at the time, Kenji was a current Dartmouth student. And it was a bit unusual to have a current Dartmouth student on a panel at a conference that was mostly people who are representing their profession. He brought right into the middle of the conversation a Dartmouth student’s perspective on not only what would make a learning environment meaningful for students at Dartmouth at the time, but an insider perspective as well, because he was an intern at the Hood and helped lead a program for other students at the Hood. He brought a sort of depth of experience to that conversation right where we wanted it, right where we were hoping to create these spaces for students just like him. I felt like both of those essays were an opportunity to look back a little bit, but also to hopefully benefit those who might be thinking about doing a similar project.

Why do you continue working in the museum field?

JB: What really keeps me in the field is being able to contribute to those moments when someone realizes something new or remembers something that maybe they knew, but now they see it in a different way. I love enabling that: the fact that maybe art can help you see things differently, that interacting with works of art might help you see something new or learn something about another person because you’re interacting with them either in a class or in a social situation. It’s just being able to provide a framework for making sense of the world. That gives me a lot of professional joy.

What would you say to someone who says they know nothing about art and doesn’t feel like the Hood is for them?

JB: I would say you’re probably the best audience because you’re going to come in with a fresh mind. It should be a place where you can start, just like you start reading a book. You may or may not know anything about the subject at all, but the hope is that you make a connection or that you learn something pleasing or interesting or funny or different. Or maybe not! But the opportunity is there. I would say that the museum should present an opportunity for anyone and everyone. Where they go from that is one of the wonderful things about being human.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.