Volume 97 Issue 5 News

Kathryn Blake Impacts Juniata’s Museum

by Beth Hemme

Kathryn Blake was appointed as the Director of the Juniata College Museum of Art in Sept. She is looking to improve and experiment with Juniata’s art museum.

“I was looking for a different direction in my career. I was at Phoenix Art Museum for 24 years and wanted to move up in level of authority, influence and just wanted to actually experiment a little bit more,” said Blake.

According to Blake, museum size contributes to how the facility is run. “The larger the museum the more difficult it can be because there’s just so much more bureaucracy in some ways. There’s a lot of pressure from outside, a lot of internal pressure and so they can struggle to be nimble, more quick in responding. You have to convince a lot more people that you want to try something new. And hopefully I can bring that enthusiasm for thoughtful experimentation here,” said Blake.

“When you work at a larger place, ironically sometimes, there’s less opportunity to experiment. So I had started looking and came across the position at Juniata,” said Blake.

She did a Skype interview before coming to Juniata and taking up the position. Upon visiting, the atmosphere at Juniata was notably different from Blake’s previous position. “I liked the community. It’s a big change from Phoenix, but everyone has been very welcoming,” Blake said.

Blake attended a school similar to Juniata, though there were other things about the school she found attractive. “One was the commitment to cross disciplinary education, which I am very much a proponent of, particularly as it relates to the role of the art museum here on campus and in the community,” said Blake.

“I felt there were two things I was looking for in a position. One was opportunity and one was potential. And I felt that both of those were available here,” said Blake.

One of the first things she did was buy benches for students to sit on in the gallery. According to Blake, one of the largest complaints at museums is the lack of seating. “Well you want people to stay so give them a place to sit. So I want this to be a place people are comfortable. If they’re going to be comfortable they need to have a place to sit. So first big purchase: lots of seating,” said Blake.

Senior Emma Campbell said, “Kathryn has already made some amazing changes by helping the museum studies students think outside of the box.  She is very open to trying new things in the gallery which is very exciting.”

Blake plans to bring more pieces out of the vault and show them off; however, she has to familiarize herself with the collection Juniata has first. “Experimentation happens most in small museums,” Blake said. “I think it’s important for students who are here for four years to know more of what the museum has.”

Blake is also looking to add pieces to the gallery collection for shorter periods in hopes to attract students to the museum more often. “Can we select five, six, maybe ten works just to explore that idea but change it more frequently? So maybe it’s only up first semester then there’s a different idea we explore from the museum collection the second semester,” said Blake.

Another experimental change is to put fewer pieces on display at a time so people can look at the art without feeling the need to move on. “People can only absorb visually so much at a time and if museums really believe, art museums particularly, that looking at an art work takes time then if you do an exhibition with a huge number of works, isn’t that sort of counterintuitive? Can’t people get visually, intellectually and emotionally overloaded?” said Blake.

“I’m bringing experience in working for my whole professional career thus far in a public art museum. So that’s different than a university context I would say. How things are done is a little different and in terms of teaching Museum Studies, you know, I’ve worked every day in the public museums so my decisions are informed by that. It’s a different context, not better or worse, just different,” said Blake. “I can’t say what it’s like day to day. Yes there are books about museums and how they work and they’re good texts but the realities always slightly something different.”

“There’s a couple things I did that are practices I’m accustomed to that are new here and none of this is a criticism of how things were run previously, it’s always an evolution. Every place evolves differently. So anyone who comes in is going to bring new skill sets,” said Blake.

The students who were already involved in the art museum seem to be just as excited as Blake is. “I look forward to seeing me her make the museum a well known presence on campus,” said Campbell.

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