Culture & Community

 “The most important thing a museum creates is an audience.”—Matthew Teitelbaum

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has a new director coming, Matthew Teitelbaum. Read about him and the cultural institution he led for 17 years, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), where he has shaped inspiring programs, exhibitions, spaces, and projects. Here’s the link to the article in today’s Boston Globe.

Reading the article made me think of Lowell as a cultural destination as a whole and about specific organizations and agencies. Although the large AGO operates on a wildly different scale than the Whistler House Museum of Art or what we may possibly see with a re-imagined Smith Baker Center, the director’s approach felt both familiar to Lowell (partnership-oriented, inclusive, youth-and-family focused) and also something to aspire to in this city (more contemporary, more ambitious, more boundary-stretching). If scale is a key factor to moving forward, maybe the scale issue can be addressed by a more intentional connecting of Lowell’s major cultural players and activities. We have collaborations now, but can this strategy go to the next level—and what could it do? At the AGO, the director and staff opened a lot of doors and windows, allowing for a freer flow of culture and community in that place.

“One of the drums Matthew beats,” says Judy Koke, the AGO’s chief of public programming and learning, “is that for us to be successful we have to find interesting partnerships. . . . It’s about ‘What are you doing with your collection that’s making a difference to the life of the community?’”

And yet, she reiterates, in the end it is still about the art. “We aren’t in any danger of becoming a community center rather than an art museum!”

Boston Globe art critic Sebastian Smee writes that Teitelbaum’s choices contrast with many of those of Boston’s outgoing MFA director Malcolm Rogers, who was immensely successful during his run with a more mainstream set of art offerings. Will Matthew Teitelbaum lean more toward the new? He was a curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston early in his career. That’s where I remember his name in this area. We’ll see. When he gets settled, maybe he could be invited to Lowell to look around.

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