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Museum's Ruzicka hopes to increase attendance

August 15, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, Joseph Ruzicka was on the road to becoming a doctor.

"I never intended to go into art history," Ruzicka said. "I was on a pre-med track. Then one year, I took a Renaissance to modern art class and that was it."

The "it" was an insatiable desire to pursue a professional career in art history and museum work. Looking back on his life, Ruzicka said his early childhood also played a role in his decision to switch career paths. A family tradition helped lay the foundation for his career in art.

"Going to museums and going to the opera, it was part of how my parents brought us up," said Ruzicka, who grew up in northern New Jersey. "It was very natural. It was just part of life."

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After an eight-month search, the museum's board of trustees hired Ruzicka to take over as director of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts on July 1. He replaces Jean Woods, who resigned on July 31, 2003, after 21 years.

Search committee chairman and museum board President Spence Perry said he and other board members are excited about Ruzicka's enthusiasm and future plans, which include concentrating heavily on reaching out to the community.

Ruzicka said he hopes to expand existing art classes for children and as he builds relationships with community members, he hopes to increase financial support and attendance at the museum.

He spent the last two years as executive administrator of the Association of Art Museum Curators in New York.

He earned a bachelor's degree in art history from the University of Wisconsin in 1982. He also earned a master's degree and a doctorate from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. He has held positions at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art and the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, N.Y. He also worked at the Milwaukee Art Museum in Wisconsin.

Now a museum director for the first time, Ruzicka said his first priority is to revise museum policies about existing collections. Within the next year, he and the museum's collection committee will develop a new policy.

In 2006, the museum will reach a major milestone.

"The biggest thing is planning for the 75th anniversary," he said.

Ruzicka is planning several events that will celebrate the museum's history and its role in the community for the last three-quarters of a century.Jim DeYoung, a senior conservator with the Milwaukee Art Museum, describes Ruzicka as a team player.

"Often, curators will work out their concepts and projects by themselves," DeYoung said. "He was always very quick to recognize those who had working knowledge of the collection."

DeYoung also said Ruzicka isan art professional who has a world view that's diverse and capable of merging ideas.

The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts is one of the state's three accredited museums. The other two are the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Museum, both in Baltimore.

The museum's primary collections are in 19th- and 20th-century American and European art. The museum also has collections in African and Asian art.

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