There's a passionate knowledgeability that shines through when people are talking about what they love.
There's a passionate knowledgeability that shines through when people are talking about what they love. When newly appointed director Juniper Manley speaks about the Harwood Museum of Art, the joy she takes in every detail of its history is unmistakable.
"The story of it fascinates me," she said. "I remember when it was a library, and when it was transitioning into a museum. For me growing up here, it was like a second home. Back then, the art history of Taos was more than I could begin to understand as a kid, even though it was all around me - it was fascinating. To go away and study and come back and work at the Harwood and learn more and more was constantly fascinating. There have been so many groups and art movements from around the world that have all had links to Taos. All these broader movements crossed through Taos and through the Harwood collection."
Manley grew up in Peñasco and went to Taos High School. She holds a master's degree in arts management from the Carnegie Mellon Heinz School of Public Policy and Management, and a bachelor's degree in anthropology from Reed College. "I left town, and didn't expect to come back to stay. I lived in Seattle, worked at the Henry Art Gallery on the University of Washington campus. After 11 years of rain, I moved to Barcelona and was fascinated by the art and life there. Then, I met my husband, who is an artist from Pecos, New Mexico. He anchored me here, my family is here, and I absolutely love it here. I'm grateful that I've been able to come back on my own terms, to work in my field."
Manley served as director of development at the Harwood from 2008-2016, before taking on a position at Taos Land Trust. "I don't officially start at the Harwood until May 15," she said. "But I've already started meeting with some staff and trying to allow and facilitate this transition phase."
About the selection process for the directorship, she said, "I don't even know how large the pool was initially. Applications were due in October, and they honed the number of candidates down to three at the end, [who] actually had the in-person presentations. The hiring committee was made up of board [of directors], staff and community members, and they made their recommendations."
We asked Manley what her first priorities will be in her new position. "Well, I've been there before so I'm not brand-new, but I've also been gone for two years," she said. "So, listening and asking questions will definitely be my first priority. What's working, what's not, looking at the data and getting a sense from the staff about what's needed. That's the internal listening. Then externally, listening to the community about what is wanted by all the sectors of our community. Ultimately, the Harwood is a public institution and needs to serve the public -- all of the public, not just a certain economic or cultural sector.
"That's a challenge every museum is faced with. Any institution, especially one that is serving the community, has to be aware of where that institution came from, and not let that limit how it serves the community. It takes some thought, not just in what's presented but in how meetings are held, how people interact with objects. For example, our younger audiences have a different relation to information than people have ever had in the past. We need to keep asking, 'What's the role of art and creativity in our world these days? What can art do, what can it provide?'
"In Taos, unlike in big cities, you know enough people and have enough connections that you can actually make a difference. The Harwood is an important institution with the potential to really affect the creativity in our community. It's also a great responsibility. I'm not the decider, I'm the facilitator for what an amazing staff wants to articulate and what the community expresses to us. I have input and ideas and I like to put connections together. In our community, for instance, we have hundreds of nonprofits asking for funding, and we cannot thrive if we're working against each other. I think collaboration is number one. By collaborating, we can get a piece of the economic pie for more organizations. Harwood is attached to [the University of New Mexico], so they bring in amazing lecturers and performers. Let's look at how we can work even more with UNM, with the Institute of American Indian Arts and more arts organizations in Santa Fe. How we can bring more to Taos more efficiently and more affordably, so that everyone benefits?
"I'm grateful to the board and the staff that have really carried the museum through these transitions, and I very much hope that the community will come forth. We're very willing to hear ideas, to hear what people want to do. We hope to have some forums where the public can come together on certain themes and get conversations started. For instance, how are we addressing the economy? How can the Harwood serve artists, the downtown area, Taos Pueblo? These are the things that intrigue me. We have this rich history that not enough people know, and our challenge is in cultivating our current art world. There's always more work to be done in discovering the creative talent that's here. I'm excited. I feel honored that I was chosen, and it's an amazing platform to do things in the community and have community outreach in a real way."
For more information on the Harwood, its exhibits and programs, call (575) 758-9826 or visit harwoodmuseum.org.
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