Focusing on academics

University of Wyoming Art Museum Director Marianne Wardle stands Feb. 2 in one of the galleries at the Art Museum. Wardle started her position as director Jan. 29.

The University of Wyoming Art Museum has grown significantly throughout the past three decades, moving into a new and much larger location, hosting internationally renowned artists and expanding ties to the local art scene.

Marianne Wardle, the museum’s new director, said she hopes to continue that mission, while increasing outreach and collaboration with the university.

“I think the museum has done a really wonderful job of bringing contemporary exhibitions that are really engaging and really building on that art scene,” Wardle said. “Something that we need to build … is engaging the university with that same level of excitement.”

The museum’s collections provide opportunities for instruction and conversation, Wardle said, and art can invite its audience to think about a topic in new ways.

“A lot of times, people think about an art museum being just about, ‘We put pretty things on the wall and people come look at them,’” she said. “But there are artworks that have really interesting, deep meanings, and if you can come up with any topic, you can come up with artwork that allows you to address that in some interesting way.”

The UW Art Museum’s former director, Susan Moldenhauer, worked at the museum for 26 years, serving as its director for more than 17 of those years. Moldenhauer guided the museum’s growth and worked to increase the museum’s collections, as well as the endowments supporting those collections.

As a photographer herself, Moldenhauer developed close ties between the museum and the local art scene.

“It’s been evolving over time from a really small academic museum to a much more diverse and vibrant and — I hope — engaging place for faculty, students and the community to come in and enjoy and use,” Moldenhauer said in December.

Wardle said she hopes to bring her expertise as an art historian to expand the academic outreach portion of the museum’s mission.

“(Moldenhauer’s) strength was that she is a practicing artist,” Wardle said.

“My strength is that I’m an academic and my background is in academic engagement in museums, so I’m coming from a slightly different direction.”

Before Wardle starts making her vision a reality, she said she must get her bearings.

“In the short term, what I really need to focus on — what I’m planning to focus on — is learning the university and learning the museum’s collections and learning the staff strengths,” she said.

Having started Jan. 29, Wardle said she spent her first week meeting with every staff member at the museum, sometimes for more than an hour.

“I find that the staff are really engaged,” she said. “They’re really motivated to do their jobs and to do their jobs well. And they have really great ideas for new ways to move forward, and that’s really fun. It’s really fun to hear all the hopes and dreams and plans they might have.”

Wardle said these staff hopes — some of which simply need permission and support — will be integral to moving the museum forward.

“As the director, a huge part of my responsibility is to find the resources, whether that’s time and helping them set priorities … or whether it’s funding from the university or outside,” she said. “They just need room right now to do those and to run with it.”

Wardle earned her doctoral degree at Duke University and worked as curator of academic initiatives for Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art.

“I was lucky enough to get a job right after I finished, which is not always the easiest thing to do with a degree in art history,” she said. “So, I stayed. I was in North Carolina for 18 years.”

Wardle was raised in Idaho and Utah, living in Casper for three years between the two locations.

“Those years that our family spent in Wyoming we refer to as the golden years, because they were this really happy time for our family,” Wardle said.

Wardle said she views her move to Laramie as a return to the west, where she spent most of her vacation time during her tenure in North Carolina.

“It’s a really nice small town,” Wardle said. “Everybody’s super friendly. There’s a lot happening here, so that’s really exciting. It’s really nice to see that downtown is alive. A lot of towns sort of have lost their downtown feeling, but here you really feel that.”

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