Wyona Lynch-McWhite Aims to Make Art Available to Everyone
Wyona Lynch-McWhite: We want to get as many people as possible through our doors.
Some years back Wyona Lynch-McWhite developed a number of principles to guide her work, including Art is for everyone. In mid-2009, she became director of Fuller Craft in Brockton, the only contemporary craft museum in New England, and uses her personal motto to make the museum as inclusive as possible.
Here is her story:
I started working for museums when I was a graduate student during the early 1990s at Columbia College in Chicago. I received a masters in fine arts with a concentration in photography and twentieth century photographic history. The first museum I worked for was the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia. Although my first love is photography, I have gotten to know more works and now have a much broader appreciation for art. As a worker, I am a photographer, that is the art I make, but as a lover, I now appreciate everything on the art spectrum.
When I first started at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, I was just a gallery assistant. I had to haul artwork around Chicago, I had to paint walls, I did desk duty I did it all. Today, I have the ability to understand and empathize with every department of the museum because of my job with this museum. My career path has been such that I have done all of the work, so I feel like I have actual working knowledge of all the things that go into the whole of what I museum should be. I hope this makes me more understand toward the day-to-day troubles that team members face in their work.
Later, my job at the Art Institute of Chicago changed the way I looked at museums. At that point, even though I worked for museums, I never thought they would be where I would make my living. Something about this job changed the way I thought about museums and what they did.
This particular experience changed me because it required me to stretch across all disciplines. To work in the Art Institute and to serve the public, I had to be an advocate and be passionate about paintings, print making, and all sorts of things. I had to take that same passion and share it with people of all different ages and art knowledge. It democratized the way I looked at art, talked about it, and thought about it.
In 2002, I made up my own guiding principles for how I wished to serve as a leader and posted them on the bulletin board in my office. They have always been my guiding principles ever since then. They were very basic, just three little principles. The first was, Art is for everyone. I dedicated myself to working in the field to ensure that museums were as inclusive as possible for anyone who could ever want to go. I looked at those principles every day. The other two are "Lead by example." and "Play well with others." These principles are personal to me, but I think the way I expect the staff to treat our patrons requires them to find a way to manifest these principles themselves, especially finding a way to make art accessible to everyone.
I joined the Fuller Craft Museum as deputy director in 2008. I was interested in their story and what they were doing, so I left my role as director and chief curator at the Wilson Museum at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, to come up here.
Fuller Craft is the only place I have ever worked that has such a specific focus. I am more of a generalist. With the exception of the Museum of Contemporary Photography, everywhere else I have worked has looked at art in a more general sense. As executive director, what I would love more than anything else is to increase our amount of annual visitors. We want to get as many people as possible through our doors; right now, we have just under 30,000 visitors a year.
One of our popular showcases is called Art Aspire, a display of work done by students in our local after school programs. For the past 10 years, we have placed actual working artists in the after school programs that do a six- to 10-week residency with the students making crafts together. At the end of each school year, we bring as much of the students art as possible into our museum to showcase the program.
I think you can really tell when youre working in-sync with your organization because it is somewhat effortless everyone has the same expectations, same understanding of how to solve problems. You will get that rhythm going, and even though there may be a problem, that is just part of work.