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Making a living in art

New museum director has more than 20 years experience

New museum director has more than 20 years experience

August 24, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

When she became the director of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Rebecca Massie Lane said it was as though she were handed a gem - one that she wants everyone to see shine.

Lane officially began her duties Aug. 1 as the director of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

As director, Lane is in charge of managing the museum's day-to-day operations and giving the museum a sense of direction, said board member William G. Plavcan, who was board president during the hiring process.

Lane said her goals as director are to build relationships with other arts venues, grow the museum's art education programs and give the museum more exposure, beyond the county and state levels.

"(People) know of the museum as a place that takes them out of everyday life and gives them a window into another person's world, through the artist's eye," she said. "... I'm not sure they really realize that a lot of these paintings here are highly significant works of art and are very valuable to not just the town and the county and the state, but to the nation and the world."

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Founded in 1929, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts focuses on 19th and early 20th century American artwork, with some European works. The museum has roughly 7,000 pieces in its permanent collection, including a recent addition of a Pablo Picasso linocut print.

Lane will prepare the museum for the reaccreditation process. Lane said the museum is accredited by the American Association of Museums, but is due for reaccreditation in two years.

"Which means, really, an intense look at ourselves and an assessment of what the museum is, who we serve, who our audience is," Lane said.

Where she's coming from

Lane replaces Joseph T. Ruzicka who was the museum's director up until 2007. Ruzicka was hired in 2004, following the retirement of longtime director Jean Woods. Plavcan said the museum's board decided not to extend Ruzicka's contract because of differences of opinion between Ruzicka and the board.

Plavcan said Lane was chosen because she was well-connected in the art world and her experience directing galleries and broad art background makes her well-rounded as a director.

"I think she's going to be the person to lead us to more recognition," Plavcan said.

Before coming to Hagerstown, Lane served as the director of museums and galleries at Sweet Briar College, an all-women's liberal arts school in central Virginia. She also was the director of Knoxville Museum of Art in Tennessee. She held curatorial positions for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts between 1975 and 1980.

She received a master's degree in art history from the University of Virginia, in 1976.

Lane said she did not grow up knowing she wanted to pursue a career in the arts - let alone become a director of a museum. Lane was raised in Virginia, just outside Charlottesville. Both her parents were educators.

"I wasn't the Latin scholar and I wasn't the mathematically accomplished child," she said. "So they wanted to help me find things that I was good at, that I would enjoy and could thrive with."

Art was one of those things. She soon became fixated on the study of art, a passion she followed throughout college, despite her father's concern over how she'd make a living.

Making a living would not be an issue. Lane was able to work her way to the museum director seat, a perch she's held for more than 20 years.

Lane's vision for the future

As for the future of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Lane said she wants the museum to become part of the larger fabric of the arts community. She wants the museum to get more exposure.

This summer, the museum published a book, "One Hundred Stories: Highlights from the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts," and has planned an exhibit tied to the book this fall. There also is an exhibit about jazz-inspired artwork coming up this spring.

But Lane said she would like to do more.

"I'm very interested in moving the museum into a more visible role in the community," Lane said.

Lane is a fan of art education, which she hopes to expand in Hagerstown. Lane also subscribes to the work of Harvard researcher Howard Gardner, an advocate for addressing students' multiple intelligences - which includes art intelligence.

Her favorite story to tell is that of a high school student who unexpectedly tapped into his own art intelligence. It was thought that the student would not be successful academically because he performed poorly in the classroom. That is, until he presented a project linking the baskets made by North and South Carolina crafters with techniques used in Africa - a tradition passed down from the region's early West African inhabitants.

"And here's a student who everybody thought was not academically gifted and it turned out he was brilliant," Lane said.

Part of her desire for art education stems from a concern all museum director's face - attracting younger audiences to arts venues. Growing the museum's already popular youth art programs helps plant the seed and will, perhaps, groom the next generation of museum patrons.

But Lane said her main motivation stems from wanting to share what art means to her.

"Art is a form of communication that's very different from language arts, mathematics, science, history, all those disciplines. It's a way of speaking. It's away of communicating," Lane said. "The sad thing is that most of us in our country are illiterate in how to speak the language of art."

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