New executive director talks about Mystic Museum of Art

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When V. Susan Fisher read about the opening for a new executive director at the Mystic Museum of Art, she felt an immediate connection.

“I think I may sound Pollyannaish … because the remarkable thing, when I saw the job listing, was that it seemed to say, ‘Susan, this is you. Take it now. Don’t think about it. Just do it,’” she says, sitting in her office at the Mystic Museum of Art, where she started working as the executive director at the end of 2018.

Fisher came to art administration not via the usual route — in other words, not through art history or art theory. Instead, she was a studio artist who later segued into administration, most recently as executive director and curator of the Taos Art Museum at Fechin House in Taos, New Mexico, for six years. Earlier in her career, she was director of development at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a year, and director of foundation and government relations at the Philadelphia Museum of Art for three years.

Consequently, with her background as an artist, she says, an organization like the Mystic Museum “that has such deep roots as a gathering place for artists and as a place to study studio art as well as appreciate painting really appealed to me.”

In addition, she sees that this is an institution poised for growth, for promoting itself as a museum as well as an art center.

“That unusual combination of a background in education and aspirations to be a regional player as a museum really spoke to me,” Fisher says.

The Mystic Museum of Art had long been the Mystic Art Association, founded in 1913 by members of a local art colony and led by artist Charles H. Davis. In 2015, though, the organization moved to become a museum. Not only would the site operate according to established professional standards of the industry, but George King, who was the executive director there from spring of 2015 to January 2018, explained what else would happen: “We will be introducing and assimilating into the existing program, exhibitions that have scholarly content focusing on diverse subjects, both historical and contemporary with national and international merit, that will require exhibiting our collection, while borrowing works from other private and public lenders.”

David Madacsi, president of the museum’s board of directors, says that one of the things that was so compelling about Fisher was that “she has a uniquely comprehensive skill set, and that skill set has been honed through her professional experience. Her credentials pair well with our historical legacy, starting out with the artist colony … When I say her skill set is comprehensive, she studied painting, she has a masters of fine arts in painting; she worked as an artist; she studied art history at the Sorbonne, she studied museum studies at the Louvre; and then she wrote both art criticism and reviews and taught at three different universities. And beyond that, (she has) experience on the development side of museums, which is really an important part of the position of executive director. So she brought an awful lot to the table.”

Fisher says she has worked at really large institutions and really small ones, and one of the great things about the Mystic Museum of Art is that it’s in between.

“It’s small enough to be agile and nimble and to grow and become and explore. But it’s large enough to have gravitas, and it’s large enough and old enough to have had an impact on the community already,” she says, adding that she’s impressed with the number of people she’s met in the community who will tell her about, say, the time they saw a specific artist’s work there or when a certain event happened there.

Fisher, who started on the job in early December, said she was impressed, too, when she met staff and board members.

“The staff are creative and happy and ambitious and serious. They take themselves lightly but their job seriously. The board has embraced the goal of accreditation, which to me is emblematic of seriousness of intent. And they also are very articulate on their own individual aspirations for the organization,” she says.

Fisher says she sees the museum being open and welcoming, with people from the museum conducting conversations with constituents about potential exhibitions to bring in and programs to offer.

She says that, with Mystic drawing on a tradition of artist colonies, she’d like to connect the Mystic Museum’s art history with large regional and national currents in American art history.

Fisher grew up in Denver, Colorado, and has never lived in New England before, although she has resided in a variety of places, including California, France and Philadelphia. She knew about Mystic primarily through her interest in seafaring and in the literature of oceans.

She loved art from a young age and earned a master’s in fine arts degree in painting from the University of Pennsylvania. She lived as an artist for 20 years, co-founding an artists’ coop in Philadelphia with a group of artist friends. Fisher says that, as an artist, she was “very interested in figures and interiors, fairly stylized. It was representational, but it had an abstracted side.” Later on, she found herself drawn to creating “big, semi-abstract, atmospheric landscapes.”

As she wanted to take directions with her art that might not lead to earning a living, that fact, coupled with her interest in the trend in the museum world that involved rethinking what a museum is, led her to change her career path.

As for her work at the Mystic Museum of Art, Madacsi says, “On a personal level, she’s a consensus builder. I’m already seeing that. And she works collaboratively.”

He says that she is articulate, a good listener, and an extremely congenial person.

And, he adds, “Her enthusiasm for the museum and for the community is really significant.”

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