Friday, February 10, 2012

Ten Minutes with Annie Dugan, Curator at the DAI

The Duluth Art Institute has been more than just a place to showcase artists and the arts. The DAI is an exemplary model of ways the art involve and give back to the community. The current curator is Annie Dugan, a Northlander who after graduating from Carleton College in Northfield went on to get her Master's at Columbia University in New York. Duluth. After her stint out east she returned to the Midwest, of which she says, "I live in Northern Minnesota where I eat good vegetables and watch movies in my big old barn. Also, I like art." Her energy for the arts here is helps re-charge a lot of batteries.

Ennyman: Briefly, how did you come to be curator at Duluth Art Institute and what does a curator do?
Anne Dugan: I was lucky enough to take the job as Curator at the Duluth Art Institute a year and a half ago. My training is in Art History and curatorial studies and I was incredibly lucky to find a job that fit my education so well. I had worked with the Duluth Art Institute before so I was familiar with the institution and staff, but I still feel amazingly fortunate to have landed my “dream job”.

The term curator covers a lot of ground these days – people use the term for all sorts of things – basically a curator is someone who organizes and presents cool things to the public. At the Duluth Art Institute the curator is the person that selects exhibits and interprets the works on view. Because we have an extremely small staff, the curator at the Duluth Art Institute also functions as the preparator, registrar, grant-writer, program coordinator, party planner, marketer, etc, etc…..

E: What was your role in bringing the Robert Hughes film series, Shock of the New, to Duluth?

AD: We had started a relationship with Zinema 2 this fall. (and I should say here that I think Zinema 2 is the best thing that has happened to Duluth in probably forever! Seriously.) Anyway, we were looking to do something again this winter and Johnathon Olsen, the manager, suggested “Shock of the New.” I love the opportunity to deepen the discussion around the visual arts. This is an older series, it came out in 1980, but I think it’s a good jumping off point for our audiences, especially if they don’t have any background with art history. I’m thrilled that folks are stepping up to serve as “guest hosts” from the community – we’ve got professors, critics, and artists coming to make this a really fun series.

E: Why, in your opinion, is it important for art to connect with the public? That is, why are the arts important for communities like ours?
AD: I would say it is vital that the arts connects with the public – is it really art if it doesn’t?
The arts can raise questions, compel us to think about problems in different ways, help us be more tolerant. The arts can inspire us and give meaning to our lives. The arts can be a way to come together and provide joy. I’m sounding a lot like an inspirational poster so I’ll stop but the arts can play a practical role in our community as well. Arts can drive business and attract a smart, talented work force.

E: How did you become interested in a career in the arts?
AD: I actually started out in college as a geology major but I had always loved art history. My family was pretty nerdy so we would go to museums for vacations. I ended up realizing that what I loved about geology was looking closely at something to find clues to its past. What I didn’t love was higher math so I ended up switching to Art History. I was fortunate enough to work at the Walker Art Center after college which gave me a pretty great introduction to the possibilities of a career in the arts.

E: Can you give us a brief history of the Duluth Art Institute? How long has it been around? How did it begin? What does the future look like?
AD: Since its incorporation in 1907, the DAI has become the Northland’s premier center for the exhibition, study and production of visual arts, achieving its mission and goals through three primary services for artists and the community-at-large: the Exhibition Program, Education Program and Artist Services.

After existing in storefronts, churches, and artists’ homes for nearly 80 years, the Institute found a permanent home in 1975 in the former Union Depot, along with several other cultural organizations. From this location we currently operate two galleries and a series of studio and workshop spaces serving our arts education program. We use the Depot’s Great Hall for large, community exhibitions, such as our annual membership exhibition. In 1993 the Institute purchased the former Lincoln Library in Duluth’s West End to provide arts programming to one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the city. According to figures released in a United Way report on September 25, 2007, 15.5% of residents in Duluth live below the poverty line. The purchase of the Lincoln Center building was inspired by a desire to reach under-served communities in this ethnically rich, yet economically challenged, West End neighborhood. Today, the DAI serves a population of approximately 313,500 in Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin from its two locations in Duluth, Minnesota.

We’re excited for the future of the Duluth Art Institute, especially given the recent energy surrounding visual arts in our community.

E: There seems to be a lot of energy swirling around the arts scene these past few years. New galleries, new venues, art in more public spaces. To what do you attribute this?
AD: I actually think the silver lining of the economy being in the gutter is that folks have decided they might as well do what they love if everything is crap anyway. Plus I think there is a tipping point effect – we’ve met a critical mass that is passionate and excited about the arts and is actually doing something about it that it invigorates folks who might have otherwise sat on the sidelines. I also think that folks are starting to work together in meaningful ways. A lot of the galleries are coordinating openings and cross-promoting their events. In this case – more is totally more!

E: Thanks, Anne, for all you are doing behind the scenes... and out front.

Photos: Anne Dugan and 2 images from January's DAI Member Show

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