“Libraries and Museums Liberated Me”: An Interview with SAM Board Chair Dr. Constance Rice

During their September 21 meeting, SAM’s Board of Trustees elected Dr. Constance W. Rice as their new Chair. A celebrated leader and activist in Seattle, Dr. Rice has been a member of the museum’s board since 1995 and previously served on the board’s Executive, Governance, and Education & Community Engagement Committees, serving as co-chair of the latter since 2010.

To celebrate her new role at SAM, we spoke with Dr. Rice about her proudest accomplishments on the board, how the pandemic affected its functions, her favorite memories at the museum, and what it means to be the first Black chair in SAM’s history.

SAM: Can you talk a bit about the role of SAM’s Board of Trustees at the museum and its purpose?

Dr. Constance Rice: The board of trustees is the governing body of SAM. I think one of our biggest responsibilities is being ambassadors for the museum. We work to make sure the public knows that Seattle Art Museum is a community resource and that we uphold the museum’s mission to “connect art to life.” To make that happen, we try to bring in people from a variety of different backgrounds and career fields to serve on the board so that we are get input from as many different communities—corporate and non-corporate—as possible. Our official duty is to manage the Executive director and CEO of the museum. There is also a fiduciary element: making sure the museum has an operating budget and is accurately tracking expenditures. We are the activists of the institution, and it takes money, time, commitment, and a love of the overall mission of the museum to make sure it functions properly.

SAM: Compared to work you’ve done on SAM’s board in the past, what are some important parts of your news role as SAM’s Board Chair?

CR: This role is a bit more outward facing than my previous roles on the board. As the board’s primary spokesperson, I’m responsible for talking with various community members and institutions to support the museum. Like many other art institutions right now, Seattle Art Museum is looking for better funding stability. To get that stability, I work with opinion leaders at the state legislature—both elected and non-elected officials—to develop a broad constituency of support not just for SAM, but for all art institutions in our area: Seattle Symphony, Seattle Opera, Seattle Theatre Group, and Northwest African American Museum, among others. The other main responsibility of my role is relationship building. The chair is responsible for ensuring the cohesiveness of the board and making sure every member knows their role. I am there to support every member and to make clear that we all are there to support one another and the institution.

SAM: You’ve served on the board since 1995, in many roles, most recently as vice chair. What are some accomplishments you are most proud of?

CR: My level of activism has varied throughout my many years on the board. But I think my most proud accomplishments are working with Sandra Jackson-Dumont, former SAM Deputy Director for Education and Public Programs, and co-chairing what is now the Education and Community Engagement Committee (ECEC). Sandra has been an inspiration for me throughout my life and I feel honored that I was able to work so closely with her before she moved on from SAM. As co-chair of the ECEC, I was able to focus on community building and had the opportunity to work with several more wonderful people. My first co-chair, Herman McKinney, was very much an activist. He helped found The Breakfast Club, chaired the Martin Luther King Memorial Committee, and served as the first director of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s Urban Enterprise Center. Eventually, José Gaitán took over Herman’s role and José was very interested in ensuring the museum understood Seattle’s Latinx population and was actively reaching out to them. After José, I co-led the committee with Sandra Madrid. Sandra really got the museum interested in developing partnerships with non-profits like Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Atlantic Street Center. Co-chairing this committee has been a great joy for me in terms of watching it expand and engage with local communities over time.

SAM: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the way you approach leadership roles?

CR: Professionally, I’m extroverted, but personally, I’m introverted so the professional side of me has really had to adjust since we began holding our meetings virtually due to the pandemic. My leadership style is very focused on establishing relationships, and it’s been harder to do that remotely the last two years. In interviewing for this position, I had the opportunity to meet with board members mask-to-mask since the museum is open to the public and it made me realize just how much I value person-to-person interactions. Going forward, I intend to meet every single one of the board members in person at some point throughout the next year. That’s the only definite plan I have right now.

SAM: What are some of the top priorities you’re looking to address within the museum?

CR: The COVID-19 pandemic made me a lot more introspective and gave me an opportunity to read a lot more. As a kid, I was pretty much a loner. No, I was totally a loner. I’m from Brooklyn, New York, and in junior high school I would go into Manhattan on the weekdays to the 53rd Street Library to do my homework. After I finished, I would go across the street to The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) because it was free to all students at the time. The library and MOMA opened a whole new world for me—it was liberating. Libraries and museums liberated me.

Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic as a kid—I couldn’t imagine it. Being in the position that I am in right now, I want to focus on creating more opportunities for children and their communities to access the arts. Because without art, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Whether it’s through singing, painting, dancing, dreaming, or reading SAM offers a space for every kid to be creative and that’s what I want to emphasize as I take on this new role.

SAM: You are the first Black person appointed as SAM’s Board Chair. What does that mean to you? And why is it important for a museum board to be diverse?

CR: One of the things I asked myself when I was first approached about becoming chair was, what’s wrong with this picture? Well, I’m not male, and I’m not rich. One of the challenges of the board is the diversity within it—age, gender, ethnicity, etcetera. And while we are the ambassadors of connecting art to life, we still have work to do in terms of bringing more life into the art world. And that means really considering what work we’re putting on our walls and who we are hiring to shape and guide the museum.

SAM: The summer of 2020 was a difficult time for many people across the nation. It was the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the world was grappling with the murder of George Floyd. Many institutions, including museums, were called upon to reevaluate how they interact with the communities around them. How did you see this materialize within SAM?

CR: I live nearby the museum, so I was very pleased when I first saw Kimisha Turner painting the plywood on the windows that summer. As I watched her progress, I noticed that she brought her son with her and sat him down on a chair outside every day while she worked. One day I stopped by to ask about him being there, and she said, “I create better when he’s with me.”

I marched a lot that summer and the museum was on the route for many demonstrations. I am very aware that the marches, and what was going on nationally with George Floyd, bolted me to this new position on the board. I am deserving of this position, but I am also aware that my colleagues looked around and said, “we’re not going to do business as usual.” That’s what I believe I represent. It’s also why I really admire and respect my peers on the board. They looked around at what was going on in the world and decided it was time for change.

SAM: Can you share any favorite memories of being at SAM?

CR: I have so, so many wonderful memories of being at SAM. I knew Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Knight well. Jacob was from Harlem and the only living creature that could make me smile when he called me Connie because I hate being called Connie. But I was fortunate enough to attend one of their gallery talks in the old auditorium in the basement of the Seattle Asian Art Museum. It was there that I got to know Pam McClusky, SAM Curator of African and Oceanic Art, and I immediately became a fan.

Being at SAM, I have also been able to meet so many wonderful artists, like Brenna Youngblood and Theaster Gates, two former winners of the Gwendolyn Knight & Jacob Lawrence Prize. I met Theaster when he lived in Seattle and was doing The Listening Room at SAM. He had a satellite office set up in Pioneer Square and asked members of the community to bring in their albums to add to the exhibition. When I was looking through the donated albums one day, I saw a Nina Simone album with a cover that I loved. I asked Theaster what he was planning to do with albums when the exhibition was over, and he said, “I’m going to give it to you.” I nagged him and nagged him throughout the exhibition, but I never got the album. But, you know, one of the things I hope for as chair is that I have more of these special moments and memories with artists at the museum.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Courtesy of University of Washington.

Muse/News: Stories to Tell, Ceramic Guardians, and Louvre Super-Fans

SAM News

Museum Shows With Stories to Tell”: Ted Loos for the New York Times’ special Museums section, highlighting summer exhibitions around the country including Monet at Étretat at SAM, opening July 1.

USA Today readers have named the “10 best sculpture parks in the US”; SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park comes in at number 8! Go outside and see some art.

Intertwined weaves Black beauty into the cityscape,” writes the Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig about the new public art installation by Intisar Abioto and Hank Willis Thomas. The nine street banners scattered throughout the Central District were brought to Seattle by Wa Na Wari in partnership with SAM.

Local News

Misha Berson for Crosscut on the Campfire Festival, an outdoor theatre fest happening now through June 5; its organizers the Williams Project say “we have to help people figure out how to commune again.”

Melinda Bargreen for the Seattle Times on the first live audience at Benaroya Hall in 14 months; watch the clip from the Seattle Symphony’s performance of a Beethoven piano concerto.

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig visits the studio of Saya Moriyasu as she prepares for her upcoming show of ceramics at J. Rinehart Gallery.

“She shows me a sculpture with the head of a noble-looking seal—but the head is on top of a human body with a giant ass. Where the buttcheeks should be are two lighter colored circles, as if the creature had shaved just its rear end. It’s a beautifully made, oddly whimsical object that seems to wink at you: Don’t take anything too seriously.

Inter/National News

Francesa Aton of Art in America on “five new Black-run art spaces to watch.”

Maya Salam of the New York Times on several projects to preserve the plywood sheets that became art last summer, including Leesa Kelly’s “Memorialize the Movement” in the Twin Cities, which has now collected over 800 boards. 

Artnet interviews “super-fans” who were first in line to visit the Louvre when it finally reopened on May 19.

“We’re made of flesh, after all, and we need experiences. And it’s an experience to see objects in all their three-dimensionality … It’s touching to see these objects that have persisted through time.”

And Finally

“An Interactive Guide To Ambiguous Grammar.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: The Cliffs at Étretat, 1885, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926, oil on canvas, 25 5/8 × 32 in., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1995.528, image courtesy Clark Institute.

Muse/News: Remote art, O’Keeffe’s recipes, and staying safe

SAM News

Following a series of progressive steps taken in recent weeks, SAM announced last Thursday that it has temporarily closed through the end of March, to help limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect the community.

While the museum is closed, we hope you’ll enjoy Gayle Clemans’ lovely review of John Akomfrah: Future History, which notes that even with the closure, “the artist and his work, nonetheless, is well worth knowing about.”

“For Akomfrah, that cinematic approach is like philosophy, a way of comprehending the world. ‘As opposites have conversations, or as they are persuaded to at least potentially sit at the table in preparation for conversation, something miraculous happens,’ he says. ‘Life itself happens.’”

Also for the Seattle Times, Gayle Clemans rounded up visual arts recommendations in honor of Women’s History Month, including SAM’s “one-room powerhouse of a show,” Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstract Variations.

Local News

The Seattle Times has extensive coronavirus coverage, including local museum news, thoughts on the immediate impact to arts organizations, and daily live updates.

Crosscut shares ways to support the creative economy, Culturyst has a special “Seattle arts at home” edition, and Red Tricycle also has ideas for remote experiences, including browsing SAM’s collection online.

The Stranger’s Rich Smith suggests that you join Everyone in the World who will be tuning in to rebroadcasts and livestreams of Seattle Symphony performances.

“The push to do these performances is all stemming from the musicians,” Shafii said. “They’re motivated to do whatever they can to provide music for the community.”

Inter/National News

Globally, Artnet is tracking closures and other art world news. They’re also reporting that institutions in China and South Korea are carefully reopening.

The New York Times’ live (and free) coronavirus updates are essential.

Since we can’t be looking at Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings, might we suggest cooking from Georgia O’Keeffe’s recipes? Thanks to The New Yorker’s Rachel Syme for the perfect housebound idea.

“Miss O’Keeffe often wondered aloud, ‘Do you think other people eat as well as we do?’”

And Finally

“Working from home is awesome.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Alfred Stieglitz, American, 1864–1946, Georgia O’Keeffe (in a chemise), 1918, gelatin silver print, 9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in., Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Gift of the Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation, 2006.6.1432, photo: Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe / Art Resource, NY

Vigorous Sounds: Women in Music at SAM

This Wednesday night, we are excited to host French soprano vocalist Donatienne Michel-Dansac at 7:00 PM. As a guest vocalist to the Seattle Symphony Donatienne Michel-Dansac is bringing her voice to SAM as part of our musical programming in conjunction with the exhibit Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, Paris. Her performance follows Seattle Symphony Orchestra harpist Valerie Muzzolini-Gordon’s gallery performance during SAM Remix earlier this month.  Taking place amongst Sophie Calle’s photographic series Exquisite Pain in the fourth floor galleries, Muzzolini-Gordon performed elegant compositions by French composers in response to artists featured in the exhibition. Muzzolini-Gordon’s sustained harp tones echoed over the gallery space and lingered into the next room as the intricate arrangement of notes created a poignant connection with the adjacent artwork.

 

Donatienne Michel-Dansac will be performing avant-garde compositions by composer George Aperghis whose works are located in the field of experimental music and are known for their playfulness and theatricality. Michel-Dansac is known for performing, and often premiering, new works by contemporary composers, although she regularly performs works from all musical eras. Her performance this Wednesday will take place Plestcheeff Auditorium to give an acoustically rich performance to contrast with Muzzolini-Gordon’s gallery recital. This should be a great chance to hear Michel-Dansac perform intricate works she is familiar with in an intimate setting. Personally I am excited to hear excerpts from Aperghis’ works Récitations, a piece written for solo voice that is sprightly but vigorous, whose sound might be compared to vocalizing a computer algorithm. The night’s performance will also feature excerpts from Aperghis’ works Pubs and Zig-Bang. Michel-Dansac will also be performing with the Seattle Symphony on November 29 and December 1 with the performance Morlot Conducts Mahler.

 

Seattle Symphony Performance

Donatienne Michel-Dansac

November 28, 2012

7–8 pm

Plestcheeff Auditorium

Free and open to the public.

Ryan Peterson, Program Assistant

GO! Gauguin Deals for Performing Arts

It’s day three of GO! Gauguin Week and we’re highlighting deals that allow you continue exploring your inner artist through music and theatre.  Act soon to take advantage of these deals which provide an opportunity to explore French culture and modern art with specific performances in March and April.

Don’t forget that you’ll need to print your coupon, available here, in order to take advantage of these awesome deals.  At noon today on Facebook and Twitter, we’ll be releasing a clue for the location of the hidden pair of tickets for Gauguin & Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise.  The first person to reach the secret location and say, “Go Gauguin!” receives these tickets.

Seattle Symphony
200 University Street

Sights and sounds make for a profound experience and when you present your GO! Gauguin coupon at the Seattle Symphony Ticket Office you will receive 10% off the all French program Morlot Conducts Debussy & Ravel on March 15 and 16 at Benaroya Hall.  Hurry in to buy your tickets for next week’s concert as the offer is good through March 16, 2012.  This offer cannot be combined with other offers or discounts.

Taproot Theatre Company
204 N. 85th Street

Receive 20% off tickets to Taproot Theatre’s Freud’s Last Session running from March 23 through April 21, 2012.  In Freud’s Last Session  C.S. Lewis and Freud meet for a stimulating exchange about life, love, and God.  For tickets and more information visit their website.  To receive the discount use IHEARTSAM online or call the box office at 206.781.9707 and present your coupon at Will Call.  This offer is not valid with other offers or previously purchased tickets.

 

"Red" at the Seattle Repertory Theatre

Seattle Repertory Theatre
115 Mercer Street

Enjoy $5 off tickets to Red, playing at the Seattle Repertory Theatre until March 24, 2012.  Winner of six Tony Awards, this sizzling 90-minute drama about famed abstract expressionist Mark Rothko is one of the most intellectually riveting shows to hit Broadway last season.  The discount is available for any performance but not valid for D level seating.  Use SAM when purchasing your tickets online to receive the offer and don’t forget to visit a real Rothko at SAM in the Modern and Contemporary Galleries when visiting Gauguin & Polynesia.

Return tomorrow for information regarding the GO! Gauguin partner restaurants and learn about the fabulous food deals from local restaurants!

-Sarah Lippai, Public Relations Intern

SAMBlog