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Director For The People

Editorial By Courant

February 17, 2008

Susan Lubowsky Talbott struck just the right note when she was introduced as the new director of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art last week.

As The Courant's Matt Eagan reported, Ms. Talbott rode in from the airport with a cab driver who knew there was an art museum in Hartford, had visited once as a child and couldn't think of its name. She said she wants a museum in which cab drivers and everyone else in the community are welcome.

That's the ticket. Across the country there's an almost endemic view that museums are elitist and isolated from the community. This view persists, even about museums that are doing good community programming.

The Wadsworth is such. Once thought of as a club for the well-heeled, it has increased its community activities in recent years, but cannot quite shake the brie-and-black-tie image.

Ms. Talbott plans to remedy that impression, and she has the credentials to do it. As director and CEO of the first-rate Des Moines Art Center from 1998 to 2005, she held countless meetings and formed partnerships with more than 100 community groups. She invited local artists into the building and put their work in major traveling exhibits.

Ms. Talbott doubled museum admissions in her first two years, aided downtown revitalization, acquired more than 700 contemporary works of art, organized major exhibitions and proved herself an adept fundraiser to boot.

She has been a community-builder, and that's what the Wadsworth needs. The nation's oldest public art museum is incredibly important to Hartford. It's a center for culture, education and tourism, a point of pride. Its art library, theater and other amenities bring people downtown.

But by building its community focus, it can be more a place where the communities that make up the Hartford mosaic come together to share the unspoken language of art. "I want the word to get out that the Atheneum is for everybody, everybody in Hartford and everybody in Connecticut," Ms. Talbott said.

The Wadsworth seems to have followed Hartford's motto, "Post Nubila Phoebus": After the clouds, sun. After a tough couple of years, Chairman Coleman H. Casey and his board members, along with the museum's top-notch staff, have balanced the budget, increased annual giving, mounted wonderful exhibits and found an impressive director.

We suggest that one of Ms. Talbott's first events be "Taxi Drivers Day." They'd love it and would be able to direct visitors to the museum thereafter.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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