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Trender: Worcester Art Museum Director: Matthias Waschek

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


One of the first things Waschek did was to open the front doors of the museum to the public

Who are Central Mass’s leading voices in arts, fashion, food, and style? They're Trenders, and GoLocalWorcester offers glimpses of the people you most want to know on the scene.  Today, GoLocalWorcester chats with Matthias Waschek, Director of the Worcester Art Museum.  Waschek moved to Worcester last November to lead the museum.

1. You’ve been in the art world for a long time. How did you first get involved?

My fascination with art has a long history. I think the arts were always a passion of mine. I realized at 17 that I wasn’t good enough to be an actual artist, so I decided the next best thing was to study art history. Interestingly enough, I only started working in the field of contemporary art since I moved to St. Louis, MO, where I was appointed director of the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts – before that, my study of art history stopped before the end of World War II.

2. What drew you to the Worcester Art Museum?

Lots of things drew me to WAM and to Worcester. First and foremost, the level of the museum collection, which is outstanding for a Museum of this size, played a huge role in my decision to move to Worcester. The opportunity to make sense of an encyclopedic collection in a globalizing world seemed most exciting, too. Last but not least, I saw from the beginning a lot of potential for an impactful tenure, both for the museum and for the benefit of Worcester. Museums only do their job well if they are part of the social glue and become urban players in the communities in which they live. The Worcester Art Museum has tremendous potential to become a beacon of activity for the city.

3. You pushed for the museum to reopen its main doors and waive admissions fees for July and August as part of an effort to bring more people in. How is it working? What are your next steps to bring folks to the museum?

The results are phenomenal. Our visitation numbers, generally rather flat in the summer, have soared. The museum is experiencing a reawakening, welcoming visitors of all ages and walks of life. It is important to us for people to feel at ease in the museum by fostering a comfortable atmosphere, helping to dispel the notion that museums are snobby or only for people who “know about art.” Also, look at the Salisbury entrance – we asked the community for $60,000 to help us reopen our front doors. To date, we have received over $100,000 in gifts of all denominations. Our free and open summer is a way to thank the public for their support, and to say, come on in, we want you here, and we want you to come back. The “secret” of museum success is to get everyday people involved and excited about being part of WAM. We will continue to do this in the years ahead via relevant programming, exhibitions and providing people with the opportunity to become stakeholders in individual projects that they care about.

4. What are some of the more unusual ways the museum is supporting the arts community?

Museums typically support the arts community. Therefore, the unusual is the usual for us.

5. The museum’s upcoming exhibit is Kennedy to Kent State, featuring photographs from the 1960s. You’ve asked people to share their memories of those turbulent days and are planning to include them in a related display in the Higgins Education Wing and online. What is the goal of the exhibit and are you planning other history through art exhibits?

The goal of every exhibition is to open new universes or to reopen those that we think we know too well. This particular exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to reach out to the baby boomers and to encourage intergenerational conversation and questioning. Memories play an important role in this. There is also an opportunity to reach out to those who did not experience the 60s in the US – think of people like me (cold war Western Germany) or immigrants from Vietnam and other places. Although our experiences were different – in certain cases dramatically so – a lot of the photographs mean a lot to us, too … think of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, the Beatles, Marilyn Monroe or Woodstock.

Are we planning other exhibitions of this kind? There are so many subjects out there for our curators to explore. Whatever is relevant and will provide an enriching museum experience for our visitors will be our compass. The possibilities are limitless. 


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