The new director of the Frye Museum of Art in Seattle talks about her vision

Growing up in Missouri, Jamil Lacey used to travel to Seattle to visit extended family during the summers. With a town the size of Fayette, which currently has a population of less than 3,000, Lacey said she considers Seattle her “first city.” Years later, Lacey is preparing to make Seattle her new home as she takes over as CEO of the Freeh Museum of Art Next March 1, Director and CEO Joseph Rosa, who quit last year.

Lacey, a first-generation college student, said she didn’t visit an art museum until after she attended college at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. During her undergraduate work, which included degrees in art history and studio art, she studied everything from fashion design to painting, believing she would become a professional artist.

“Then I did an internship at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and I realized curating and organizing, helping artists do great things, was probably more suited to my personality,” Lacey said.

Lacey went on to earn a master’s degree in Comparative Art and Literature from Northwestern University, where she also worked as Curator of Education, before taking up her most recent position as Director and Chief Curator of Providence College Galleries. Frye’s board co-chair Stuart Williams, who chaired the organization’s research committee, hailed Lacy as a “wise leader” who brings “a great mix of big picture ideas and specific strategies for leveraging the museum’s existing strengths to a greater impact on society.”

“It was kind of a no-brainer,” Lacey said of joining the Seattle museum, which usually operates on a $4-5 million budget. “When I talk to people about Frye, especially the local people, people flock to this museum. They love this museum.”

I spoke with Lacy about her vision for Frye, the challenges facing the museum, and what the arts community can expect from the latest voice joining its ranks. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

How do you deal with Seattle and this situation that might be different than how you dealt with the art scenes earlier?

I’m really interested in ways museums can be better community partners, especially for artists. I think one of the reasons being a professional artist hasn’t worked out for me is because it’s the hardest job in the world. Museums can play a much larger role in developing the cultural viability of cities and partnering with communities and organisations. Seattle is a city where there is a lot of potential for conceptual development and access to inspiring interdisciplinary opportunities, but funding and sustainability are a big issue here. And that’s something that I’d like to work on as a director, really thinking about how Frye can continue to make their wonderful in-house programming, but also maybe stretch their limbs a little bit to see how the artists here can be supported and their livelihoods — that they feel the benefits of being involved in a museum like this.

As the leader of a museum like Frye’s, how do you forge those new connections with local artists in the Pacific Northwest?

I am honest by training. Although there is an organizing staff here who will continue their amazing work, I will get to know the artists specifically through visits to the studio. I’m also very excited about understanding how the Pacific Northwest functions as a cultural region, and I think the guide to that will be the local artists. These are the people who cultivate the network.

What projects or exhibitions from your past would you point to as an example of work that excites you the most?

In terms of in-house programming, she has created a series titled “Beyond Bauhaus. I am really interested in the way that contemporary artists use art history, such as that of the Bauhaus school in Germany, to continually incorporate those histories into their practice, but also to re-evaluate history. Basically, using a gallery allows local artists and international artists to have a dialogue with each other about history. Global – these are the things I’m most interested in in terms of what’s going on inside the museum.

But what I like to spend a lot of time on, and I think maybe one of the reasons I chose this position is external programming. What I am most proud of at Providence College Galleries is a program called My HomeCourt. She has partnered with alumni of Providence College, the Providence College basketball team, and the Mayor’s office to renovate basketball courts throughout the city of Providence and collaborated with local and international artists to do giant, all-encompassing works of art that include a basketball court mural.

We will engage with the community so that the artist is integrated into and recognized by the communities. They were usually communities that experienced a great deal of abstraction, so seeing ways in which our small museum could tap into the resources and networks that we would have to invest directly in the artworks of our city was very important.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing museums in 2023 and beyond?

Existence as an inclusive and safe public space in this ongoing pandemic landscape that we continue to live in, thinking about how we can restore these audiences or retain your connections with communities that may not yet be ready to come to the museum. And that kind of relationship, I think, is related to financing development. For small museums that are smart and modern, like Frye, the challenge and opportunity is to look for new sources of income so that we can continue to invest in the cutting edge. We can continue to collect the work of local artists, as well as national artists. We can continue to strengthen partnerships with communities here, to see how the work we do invests in communities near and far. The great thing about Frye is that admission is free and the organization saves quite a bit of the operating budget. But if we want to continue to contribute to the growth of opportunity and cultural vibrancy in the city of Seattle, we have to think about expanding our funding and how we can continue to be smart, but be experimental in the way that we think about it. .

I am a firm believer that the art scene, especially the visual arts scene, in a city is only healthy if its museums purchase art from local artists. So knowing how to do it aggressively is going to be important to me and Frey.

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