Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Speaks with Kaywin Feldman on Leading the Nation's Museum in Uncertain Times
Two years ago, when she was first approached for the job of director of the National Gallery of Art, Kaywin Feldman declined. An experienced leader who had seen arts institutions through significant periods of change, Feldman was concerned that her expertise in change-management might not be the right fit for a place so steeped in tradition as the National Gallery. But the institution, founded in 1937 by Andrew W. Mellon, kept calling, and in March 2019, Feldman became the first woman to lead the National Gallery. She arrived in Washington, DC, after more than a decade as director and president of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, known as Mia, where she is credited with raising attendance and the museum’s profile through audience-focused programming.
Recently, Feldman spoke with us about her first year on the job, serving the national community, and how in times of crisis, art allows us to “feel the power of our shared humanity.”
This month is the one-year mark since your appointment at the National Gallery of Art. How does leading the nation’s museum differ from your past leadership experiences at Mia and elsewhere?
The scale and complexity of the National Gallery certainly present fresh leadership challenges for me, as does working for a federal institution. My first year has been a fascinating civics lesson in federal appropriations and budgeting, working with Congress, and partnering with other federal agencies. I am grateful to the Gallery staff for all the time and effort they have invested in my education.
Your second year has begun with an unexpected challenge: the COVID-19 pandemic. What is the role of arts and culture during times like these?
I am thinking deeply about what is essential. Of course, at the very top of the list are the health and safety of Gallery staff, contractors, and volunteers, but not far behind that is art. In experiencing art and creativity, we feel the power of our shared humanity. I believe profoundly in the resilient power of the arts to enrich peoples’ lives, in good times and bad. Some of the world’s greatest art was created during times of crisis, and many such works are found within the Gallery’s walls. I have nothing but optimism when I think about the ability of American museums to serve their communities, whatever comes our way.
How can audiences engage with the Gallery while the museum is closed to visitors?
We are making efforts to bring our collections and programs to audiences around the world by expanding the content we offer across our digital platforms and we have created a list of ten digital education resources that we hope will support parents, children, teachers, students, and care partners at home. Gallery tours and close views of works on our social-media channels allow for a visit to the Gallery from anywhere, at any time...