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New staff, exhibitions usher in new year at Katonah Museum of Art

The staff at the Katonah Museum of Art (KMA) has been working tirelessly to prepare the museum for a series of upcoming exhibits that will feature interactive components to engage the community, said Belinda Roth, the new interim director at the KMA.

With Executive Director Neil Watson’s resignation earlier this month after eight years leading the museum, Ms. Roth was appointed to the interim role while a search committee is formed to select the new executive director.

“Neil served as a strong advocate for the museum and raised its profile in the Westchester arts community,” said Rochelle Rosenberg, president of the KMA board of trustees, in a statement announcing Mr. Watson’s resignation and Ms. Roth’s appointment.

“Neil was an advocate for artists and the power of art to make a difference in the region,” she said. “We are grateful for his significant contributions to the spirit of the museum.”

The change of leadership was anticipated to have a big impact but despite the change the museum and staff have managed a good transition, Ms. Roth said. She credits the KMA staff with the conceptual creativity behind many of the exhibitions and touted their dedication as vital in keeping the museum running smoothly.

“The amount of work is tremendous and everyone is pitching in,” she said. “This is a super busy time of year especially, with incredibly labor-intensive exhibitions where you have layers of technology and community participation. You really need to plan ahead to make sure the design of the engaging elements is designed really well.”

New exhibitions

There is an incredible lineup of exhibitions coming to the museum through the next year, Ms. Roth said. Beyond the Bed: The American Quilt Revolution will run from late February to June and is an exhibit any museum would be proud to present, she said.

“It will feature the finest American quilts from the 19th Century to today,” she said.

The exhibit will feature a hands-on participation component where visitors can actually make a quilt. The Katonah-Lewisboro area benefits from a wealth of quilt guilds which the museum will draw on in addition to local historians and experts for presenting programs for the exhibit, Ms. Roth said.

Remix: Selections from the International Collage Center (working title) will follow the Beyond the Bed exhibit from June into October and will feature 100 artists.

“Remix weaves the narrative of collage through the history of modern and contemporary art,” according to the KMA website. “Remix explores the impact of collage on artistic and cultural expression and gathers together the diverse fragments of a rich artistic tradition.”

Art and interaction

In what Ms. Roth described as a growing national trend, museums are making greater efforts to move away from the traditional art exhibit and create hands-on, interactive experiences.

“Frameworks for museums are really changing right now,” she said. “They are challenging visitors to participate in a way they haven’t before by asking visitors to engage part of the exhibit itself.”

Face to Face: Twenty Centuries of Portraiture (working title) will feature portraits ranging from Roman busts and Pablo Piccaso to Chuck Close, mostly borrowed from local collections. The exhibit will display 50 to 60 pieces strategically arranged to promote conversation not only among visitors but among the works themselves.

“It is going to be really interesting for us,” Ms. Roth said. “This is something new we haven’t done before. It is a fresh type of format. The premise of the exhibition is to ask people to stop and bring their own perceptions to each piece. This exhibition will be hung so the works themselves have conversations with each other.”

Using a technology format, the exhibition will aim to share and document people’s different perspectives and share their experiences looking at and observing the art, Ms. Roth said.

The exhibit is scheduled for late October and will carry the museum into February 2014.

In addition to Mr. Watson’s resignation, Ms. Rosenberg announced the resignation of Allison Chernow, director of development for the last seven years at the KMA. She leaves the museum to pursue a position as the director of external affairs for the Bronx Museum of the Arts.

“Allison contributed enormously to the success and vitality of the KMA both in fund-raising achievements and innovative special events and programs,” Ms. Rosenberg said. “We wish her well in her exciting new position. The staff and board of the KMA are committed to continuing the museum’s legacy of innovative exhibitions and education programs that promote the enjoyment and understanding of the arts. We are confident that Belinda and the museum’s extraordinary staff will be highly effective during this critical transition time and will address the challenges facing the museum.”

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