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New Broad Art Museum Leader Discusses Pandemic Operations

Mónica Ramírez-Montagut photo
Aaron Word
Mónica Ramírez-Montagut is Executive Director of MSU's Broad Art Museum.";

In July, Mónica Ramírez-Montagut arrived as the new executive director of the Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University. Before that, she had run a contemporary art museum at Tulane University in New Orleans.

WKAR’s Scott Pohl spoke with Ramírez-Montagut about managing the museum during a pandemic. She says of the things that appealed to her about this job, the “cherry on top” was the striking building designed by the late world-famous architect Zaha Hadid.

MÓNICA RAMÍREZ-MONTAGUT: I met Zaha. I worked with her in 2006, when I was one of the curatorial team that designed the full museum retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum (in New York City) in 2006, so I know her body of work well. This building, I believe it's a tremendous masterpiece, and we are so incredibly lucky and fortunate and privileged to be living with this contemporary artwork in our community, so that was also very appealing for me.

SCOTT POHL: The Broad Art Museum has been celebrated in many ways, but attendance figures have not met the university's expectations or desires. This year, of course, the pandemic has impacted visitation, but long term, what do you think it will take to get those numbers up?

RAMÍREZ-MONTAGUT: I think long term, it would help for all of us, for the museum, to do a better job at letting people know that we are free and open to the public, I think, and this is not particular to MSU Broad. I have to say other university museums have the same challenge, where we are generally free and open to the public, but it's perceived as a campus venue and some folks don't know that they actually are welcome to not only walk through our campuses, but actually go to the museum. So, I think the challenge comes from that being nested into a larger institution, that some units are not open to the public, and yet this one is, so I think we need to do a better job at that, and also creating exhibitions that are a bit more reflective of our communities and the issues of our communities and be a little bit more inclusive in acknowledging our community so that they feel welcome and they see themselves reflected a little bit more on the programs that we have in the museum and the art that they see hanging on the walls. 

I’m…keen on MSU being a public higher education institution with a large population of first-generation students, which is dear to my heart. Mónica Ramírez-Montagut

POHL: From its inception, part of the Brody's mission has been to incorporate works from the university's collection into exhibitions of newer pieces by contemporary artists. Are you planning to continue that mission?

RAMÍREZ-MONTAGUT: I do and I have to say most of the artworks on view on this temporary exhibition called Interstates of Mind is actually coming from our collection. And so, that's the beauty of permanent collections, that we can actually pull them out from storage and set them in a new framework consistently through the time and they will continue lending themselves to these new visions and revisions and new observations on them, which is why art and masterpieces are something that we continue to revisit in our human era and go back to the Picasso's over and over again and continue to learn from them. Same with the objects in our permanent collection. There are masterpieces on loan from local collections, you know, from the Detroit Institute of Arts, from the Flint Museum, from Crystal Bridges. I think that's a way to move forward, right? Either blend them all together into this one theme, or make explicit this dialogue between more historical works and contemporary art. But certainly, we get a lot more from those kind of dialogues and from having exhibitions that are rich in textures and layers of historical context.

While we remain free and open to the public, you do have to sign up online and get a ticket entrance with a specific time slot on it. That is a way that we can control how are visiting the museum at any given time. Mónica Ramírez-Montagut, on current admission policy at the Broad Art Museum

POHL: Can you tell me about the nuts and bolts of the effect of the pandemic on the museum's exhibitions this year? Have some come and gone largely unseen? Will they be brought back? Is it difficult to get new exhibitions arranged?

RAMÍREZ-MONTAGUT: Yes, we had these wonderful exhibition by MFA students, the art students. I think we opened it on the day before we had to close to the public. Same with an exhibition called Situations. While we've been trying to provide access to them via digital programs like everyone else, we are fortunate enough to be able to remain open to the public, and a lot of effort went into following the guidelines set forth by the president of the university, who is also in line with the Governor and other CDC guidelines. Definitely, we're still adjusting exhibition timelines, we're still adjusting exhibitions to be extended a little bit longer, which pushes back a lot of the plans that we have, and I think it's a conversation that we keep having every two weeks.

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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