For the local arts scene, the new year finds new leadership at three Santa Fe museums. Robert Kret assumed his responsibilities as director of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum at the end of October, replacing George King, and Donna Pedace was recently selected to head the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, which oversees the Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts. She succeedsWilliam Field in that position.
Scheduled next week to take on her duties as director of the New Mexico Museum of Art is Mary J. Kershaw, who fills the position vacated in February by Marsha Bol when Bol was given the nod to run the Museum of International Folk Art.
And just to add to the shuffle, Tim Rodgers has resigned as chief curator for the New Mexico Museum of Art to become the new director of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (as well as the vice president of the Scottsdale Cultural Council).
Kershaw comes to Santa Fe from England, where she was the director of collections for the York Museums Trust, which consists of four public venues, including the York Art Gallery and York St. Mary’s. Before that, she was head of museums for the Harrogate Borough Council. Educated at University College London, where she obtained a master’s degree in medieval archaeology, Kershaw also holds a degree in English literature from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where she was born and raised. From her office in York, Kershaw responded to questions. Pasatiempo: What prompted you to consider New Mexico for a job change? Mary J. Kershaw: When I first visited Santa Fe [in 2007, for a conference], I was struck by what a delightful and extraordinary place it is, as well as by the natural beauty of New Mexico. ... The collections in the New Mexico Museum of Art were very exciting— culturally so different and seeming to be so deeply rooted in the special culture of the place. The fusion of cultures here seems to inspire lively, expressive works that are truly engaging. Moving from the north of England, I would have to say that the lovely weather is also a great incentive. Pasa: Were you ready for a change? Kershaw: It was serendipity. I was looking at the American Association of MuseumsWeb site, and out of curiosity I thought I’d have a look at the jobs. I saw the position for the director of the NMMA and explored a bit further. ... With York, I had achieved what I set out to do, and it was time for a new adventure. Pasa: Once you received your master’s degree in London, you decided to stay in England. Was there an offer you couldn’t refuse? Kershaw: Oh, my fate was sealed long before I did my master’s! I had traveled to England as an undergraduate as part of a small pilot group who were helping to set up an exchange program between the University of Pennsylvania and King’s College London. Within a week of arriving in England, I met the Englishman to whom I am now married. This opened up the opportunity to live and work in England, so I decided to take it. Pasa: Compared with your current position at York, it seems as though the NMMA will be a downsized version of your present situation. Kershaw: In York, I’ve got a broad remit across collections and curators, and I have really enjoyed that. It has enabled me to make connections across disciplines that are unexpected and engaging and to reach out to new audiences in fun and surprising ways. ... I am now looking to take the wider experiences I’ve had at York [and] to take the lead at a museum that is looking to develop and engage with new audiences,
based around excellent collections that have the power to capture people’s imagination. Pasa: A field in which you have some expertise is medieval archaeology. What do you plan to do with that in the American Southwest? Kershaw: Working as an archaeologist involves understanding how people shape and are shaped by their landscape. The connection with the landscape seems to me to be a fundamental aspect of Southwestern art that continues to this day. Archaeology also involves a curiosity about different ways of life and an understanding of the material culture and artistic expression of society. Aside from this, my role for the past decade or so has been more about leadership, management, and development in museums across a wide range of disciplines, rather than an opportunity to work specifically in medieval archaeology. I will certainly enjoy exploring the marvelous archaeological sites and museums in New Mexico and looking at what opportunities there may be for bringing art and archaeology together. Pasa: What do you foresee as your biggest challenge coming to the museum? Kershaw: I think the biggest challenge facing every museum in the United States and the United Kingdom at the moment is the same: the current economic situation.
Other than that, what I would like to do is to ensure that the museum is at the heart of the community; to make sure that New Mexicans consider it their museum and are touched by its collections and missions in positive ways; that the museum works with the many practicing artists who live and work in New Mexico and that those artists feel a sense of community with the museum; that the museum is a full partner in the artistic landscape of Santa Fe, working with the commercial galleries to our mutual benefit. ... I’m not saying that these things are missing at present, simply that it is important for the museum to be a key player in the cultural and artistic landscape of Santa Fe and New Mexico.
Step on in: New Mexico Museum of Art