Diane Butler, new University Art Museum director, stands in the museum located in the Fine Arts Building.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Art Museum director stresses outreachTweet
Reaching out to Binghamton University faculty, staff and students – and making them feel like they are a part of the University Art Museum – is a priority for new Museum Director Diane Butler.
“Binghamton has top-quality students and top-quality scholars,” said Butler, who began her duties on Aug. 30. “The museum is an ideal setting for engaging people from all different disciplines with a large range of objects. I see a lot of potential.”
Butler has worked as a museum educator and research consultant at the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell and as curator of collections at the Picker Art Gallery at Colgate University. Most recently, she served as the Andrew W. Mellon Coordinator of Academic Programs at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, where it was her responsibility to “make connections between objects in the permanent collection and professors in (various) disciplines,” she said.
“It was great for me personally, but it was also intellectually stimulating for both the professors and the students to think about art as more than the period, style and historical context that the artist was working in,” she said. “It’s so much more engaging to go beyond that and ask questions posed by people of different disciplines.”
For example, Butler created a program at Vassar College called “Kaleidoscope: Interdisciplinary Views on Art.” In the program, four different professors from four disciplines would look at the same object and discuss what they saw from their academic perspective.
“It really elicited an interesting range of responses,” Butler said. “I hope to do something along those lines here. There are impressive scholars here and I don’t know if they really get the chance to talk to each other.
“Art is here for people to interpret from a wide range of perspectives,” she added. “What might a psychology professor see in a Salvador Dali print? What might a chemistry professor question about the composition of certain pigments?”
Under Butler’s direction, the University Art Museum will not only be available for faculty members to study objects with or without their students, but they will be able to curate their own exhibitions, as well. That level of involvement has already started this fall, as Dale Tomich, professor of sociology/history and deputy director of the Fernand Braudel Center at Binghamton University, is curating “Plantation Places: Cotton, Sugar, Coffee and the Making of Nineteenth-Century Slaveries.” The exhibition focuses on slave plantation landscapes in the southern United States, Cuba and Brazil, and features reproductions of more than 130 pieces of material and visual culture.
Butler is also looking for ways to get students involved in the University Art Museum on various levels. She is communicating with Residential Life about programs that can be created for students and is hopeful that students can use the first-floor galleries for group exhibitions. The opportunity to do “mini-exhibitions” as a graduate student at Cornell University changed Butler’s life, she said.
“There’s something about an original piece that I find so fascinating,” she said. “They all have their own histories and stories. … I like to be in close contact with the objects that I think about and research. A museum does that.”
By next spring, visitors may also notice another change to the first floor of the museum. One of the galleries will be transformed into the new Kenneth Lindsay Study Room, which will feature new lighting, tables, chairs, projectors, screens and print rails. Classes will be able to study individual objects that are brought from storage in the permanent collection.
“I think it is going to be a lovely room when we’re done,” Butler said.
In the meantime, the museum has a number of exhibitions on display for the semester. Both “Plantation Places” and “Chinese Snuff Bottles” will be available for viewing in FA-213 until Dec. 15. “A Way with Words: Chinese Calligraphy by Harrison Xinshi Tu’90” will remain on display through Oct. 27, in FA-179. A reception for the new exhibitions will take place from 7-9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, in FA-213.
Butler said that she hopes campus and community visitors find the museum engaging, tell others about it, and return.
“It will be changing,” she said. “This is not going to be a static place. Not only will temporary exhibits change, but permanent collection installations will be changing, too. We have 3,000 objects. There is a lot to see.”