Questions for Dana Friis-Hansen, director and CEO of Grand Rapids Art Museum
You came on board as director and CEO of the GRAM in July. What did you know about Grand Rapids before moving here?
I had done a lot of research because I wanted to make sure this was a good fit. I'm a people person and I'm an art person, so the magic happens for me when I can connect people to art. And I think GRAM is a good platform for that. The new building is amazing. The permanent collection is good and has lots of opportunity to get better. The community is full of warm, engaging and welcoming people.
How is Grand Rapids different from your previous home in Austin, Texas?
Perhaps Austin hasn't been challenged by the economy in the ways that Grand Rapids has. Texas was spared from a lot of suffering in the last recession. You can get too comfortable there. I was there for 10 years. I was looking for a change and Grand Rapids found me. I feel like this is meant to be.
What would you like to add to the GRAM?
What we need to do is build a bigger, broader audience and support group. We need to be more user-friendly, to be more welcoming, be more engaged with people's imaginations.
I feel like the more recent exhibitions such as Warrington Colescott and Robert Rauschenberg have given the museum extra personality.
They're really unique artists and appeal to different demographics, I think.
We're a forward-looking art museum ... There's a danger if museums follow the path of history rather than question the history. And I don't want to be a museum that's a mausoleum or a warehouse.
Do you think these strategies will help educate the community about art?
I would say that education is the bedrock of the art museum. That's why we exist. Originally, art museums were created to protect objects, but this is a public place. It's a place where things happen and things come alive. What we want to do is make a one-time visitor into a repeat visitor and feel comfortable here.
What do you mean by comfortable?
Going to the museum should not be like taking medicine. It should be engaging and it should reach you at your own level.
2011 was your first ArtPrize. How was researching it versus experiencing it?
I thought I knew what ArtPrize was going to be like, but I had no idea how intense it was going to be. There's so much happening and it's happening on a variety of different levels and such a rapid pace. The intensity was wonderful and exhausting.
What do the top 10 results say about our community's knowledge of art?
They're responding to what they liked and didn't like, and we should have asked a different question. Ask them, "Is this strong art? Is this good art?" and "What does good art mean to you?" If you asked everyone, ‘Do you like vanilla ice cream?' then if you don't hate vanilla ice cream, you like it - so vanilla ice cream will be accepted.
What are you excited about for 2012?
We put together a series of exhibitions that I think will appeal to a broad variety of people. We've got some different ways of promoting them and presenting them that I think will connect.
Interview conducted and edited by Lindsay Patton-Carson. Photo by Tommy Valdez.