Art

'Museums should be a cornerstone of the community'

Millicent Rogers' award-winning new director has an ambitious plan to deepen local engagement

By Virginia L. Clark
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 12/11/19

The first time Greta Brunschwyler visited Taos was in the early 2000s. She and her mother spent hours scouring the Millicent Rogers Museum - a fateful visit indeed.

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Art

'Museums should be a cornerstone of the community'

Millicent Rogers' award-winning new director has an ambitious plan to deepen local engagement

Posted

The first time Greta Brunschwyler visited Taos was in the early 2000s. She and her mother spent hours scouring the Millicent Rogers Museum - a fateful visit indeed. After a nationwide search by the MRM Executive Committee, Brunschwyler has been named the Taos museum's new executive director.

"I've been to Taos five or six times," Brunschwyler said in a phone interview from her soon-to-be-vacated residence outside of Philadelphia. "I'm deep in packing hell," she joked about the partial move she and her partner planned this week. He, too, has been to Taos a few times and she said he loves it. She will start at the museum Jan. 6, so there's no time a-wasting for the couple to settle in.

"Both of us respond to the artistic sensibility of Taos, the food and the cultures," Brunschwyler said. "It's so unique. It's not a big-box town."

Noted by the search committee as a "museum professional with more than two decades of experience," Brunschwyler describes her primary focus as being an "exhibition designer."

"As an exhibit designer, my job is taking a story and making connection points that people find relative to their own lives," she explained. "The more you learn, the more you realize what you don't know."

This is the point she makes about a museum's purpose: "I do want people to want to know more. We were looking at and comparing these works to other jewelry and textiles and designs from other places around the world. It's so interesting."

Brunschwyler is looking to create that same excitement in upcoming exhibits for visitors to share, much the same as she has done throughout her career.

"Greta's successful track record in cultural institutions management will serve her well as she continues the growth and success of the Millicent Rogers Museum," Randy Phillips, president of the museum's board of trustees said in a press release. "Her experience and leadership abilities nicely align with our mission of celebrating the arts and cultures of the Southwest."

According to the museum press release, as executive director of the Nevada State Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada, Brunschwyler led design of their new facility; as vice president at the High Desert Museum, in Bend, Oregon, and as director of exhibits at the San Diego Museum of Man, California, she deepened community engagement.

"In San Diego, Greta created dynamic programming that drove record-breaking attendance," the release continues. Most recently, as executive director of Briar Bush Nature Center in Abington, Pennsylvania, she and her team "greatly increased program offerings for young people, seniors and special needs audiences."

In her visits to Taos she said she was immediately aware of its "smallness," but thinks that is one of its bonuses.

"I got an impression of helpfulness. Every person [I met] was warm and welcoming and almost to a person, were on a board of some kind, caring about the well-being of the community." She said in a big city you don't see the same man or woman on the street every day, and because their numbers are so great in a big city, she said it feels like there's nothing one person can do. "What I heard was that people in Taos care enough to put time into helping.

"Taos is vibrant," she said. "It's going to be really interesting. I know I'm going to be so busy getting involved. There's just so much to do here."

Brunschwyler, according to the MRM press release, "is nationally known in the museum world, having served as president of the Western Museums Association and as vice president of the National Association for Museum Exhibitions. She currently serves as a museum accreditation reviewer for the American Alliance of Museums."

"It's so great to be included in this community. I like all the energy and how it all works," she said, as compared to Washington, D.C.'s, Smithsonian scene. "There's too many suits in D.C., all that bureaucratic stuff - it's just too hard to be nimble. It's like a big battleship - you can't turn it all by yourself. I want sustainability. So many people want power or wealth and aren't concerned about the collective good."

Brunschwyler received the Governor's Award for the promotion of cultural tourism in Oregon and a national Award of Excellence from the American Association of Museums and the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

"Museums should be cornerstones in the community," Brunschwyler wrote in a postinterview email. "They can make a difference by being a 'safe space' fostering respectful community dialogue. We (the museum) want to be a place that not only stimulates curiosity, appreciation and understanding, but also that we help people listen to one another through an exchange of ideas. The museum should grow people's sense of pride in their community.

"One of the compelling reasons that I am interested in taking the position of executive director is because of a statement during the interview process that Philip Peralta-Ramos (Millicent Rogers' grandson) made, 'The museum's collection belongs to the community.'

"That a family member made this statement was especially compelling because he didn't feel that the objects in the collection are his family's but rather that they belong to the people who understand them, have in some cases made them and value them."

Sure to stir up local interest is an upcoming exhibit she said she is excited to open. It is titled "1540-2020: The Story of Taos Pueblo," which will run from July 4, 2020 through Jan. 24, 2021. We can hardly wait.

Millicent Rogers Museum is located at 1504 Millicent Rogers Road in El Prado.

Winter hours are 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily except Mondays (November-March); closed New Year's Day, July 4th, Easter Sunday, San Geronimo Day (Sept. 30), Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, with early closure Christmas Eve at 3 p.m.

Admission is $10 adults; $8 seniors; $6 veterans and students; $5 New Mexico residents; and free to Taos residents with ID. Tour groups of 10 or more receive a reduced rate with a minimum 24-hour notice. Docents tour at no additional charge with advance notice.

For more information, see millicentrogers.org or call (575) 758-2462.

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