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R. Steve Dick/University Relations

Saralyn Reece Hardy, director of the Spencer Museum of Art, with one of the many pieces from the museum's collections.

Saralyn Reece Hardy - Director, Spencer Museum of Art

Years at current job: One year, eight months.

Job duties: The director, through specialized knowledge of art, provides conceptual leadership and bears ultimate responsibility for all museum programs, among them curatorial and scholarly activities. This includes acquisition, deacessioning and conservation, exhibition planning and design, research and publication, curricular support and educational programs, including intern training, public programs and audience development, on campus, in the region and among alumni and fundraising and budget management.

How does an art museum like Spencer compliment the educational mission of KU? We hope to inspire thought-provoking and multi-sensory experience works of art. We like to think that we can materialize ideas, that we can make thoughts somehow visible, that through works of art and presentation and interpretation of them, we're able to create a visible discourse that is already occurring at the university.

What can faculty and staff who are not in the art disciplines gain from Spencer Museum of Art? The university has such wonderful depth in its departments, where we all know slightly different things. The museum can actually function as one of those places where departments can come together and provide opportunities for students and faculty to think across domains. We also feel the museum can participate very actively in the creative endeavors of the university in imagining new possibilities.

What do you like most about your profession? I think what I really love about this work is the chance to be proactive in society while reflecting upon life generally as an individual and as part of a community. I really love the chance to respond to creative work, to bring myself to it in a whole way, and think 'how can we, as part of the museum community, bring expressions of life together in some kind of dialogue with the work as a society?'

What goals/artistic statements do you try to reach or convey when selecting displays for the museum? Relevance, interest. I hope that people believe what we're presenting has importance in their own lives. I'm always concerned about the university's role in the creation and dissemination of knowledge. I think about how the exhibitions and programs can help us be more deliberate in our lives as individuals and our lives as citizens, how a presentation can help us think more deeply. How it can make us listen with more attention, look more deeply and focus and act with more conviction and purpose.

Is there an item or items in the museum's collection visitors are regularly surprised to find? Art is so surprising these days. I'm often surprised to find that one person will love something that's quite abstract. Another person will prefer a representational painting. Someone else may have an attraction to a piece that is more of a performance work that goes away. I can't think of anything that is the one object that people are surprised to find, but I think the whole range of art has broadened so much from what we might think of traditional works of art being. The surprising thing is how nimble art is these days.

What are some aspects of your job others might not realize you're involved with? I think the part of my job that would probably surprise people the most is the way I do the job, trying to bring together people that are quite different, then posing questions for them. I like to think of my job as someone who is posing a lot of questions. Questions to my staff; I hope posing questions to the university and posing questions to greater society about the values of meaning, pleasure, beauty, conflict, all of those things. Maybe it's less obvious to people that part of the job is posing some good questions to people who might be listening.

One of your current displays, "Art Into Art: Inspired Responses" explores a person's reactions to art. What do you hope people take away from an exhibit such as this? Liberty. I hope they take away the liberty to be creative. Maybe a little bit more confidence in each person's ability to have a creative thought, a creative idea, to be able to expand his or her own life. You come to a work of art for your own reasons, and you should be free to go away from them with your own ideas and a renewed sense of your own capacity to use them in life. Maybe it's not so much that there's one meaning to a work of art, but that the larger purpose of an artistic work is that if a person can be in a relationship with the work of art, you go home and the leaves are a little brighter, the words you choose are a little more thoughtful. I would say the inspired response is twofold: the chance to be creative in our own mind and the idea that you can actually use art as a way of enlarging yourself.

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