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Charles Guerin.  Photo: Hyde Collection
Charles Guerin. Photo: Hyde Collection

Hyde Collection celebrates 50th anniversary, new director

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The Hyde Collection art museum in Glens Falls is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and also welcomed its new director. Charles Guerin is the former leader of two major university art museums and former commissioner of Wyoming State Parks and cultural resources. He succeeds David Setford, who stepped down from the Hyde earlier this year to take a new job in Florida.

Todd Moe spoke with Charles Guerin about his passion for the role of art and museums in the community. Guerin, a printmaker and artist himself, says he's eager to work closely with local organizations, schools, colleges and businesses to promote the Hyde as a community resource. He says the way museums work within a community has changed in the past decade.

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Todd Moe
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Charles Guerin: It used to be that, you know, you went to museums and the primary, almost the singular function, was to look at exhibitions and somehow figure out what that was all about. And maybe somebody would help you figure it out, but maybe they wouldn’t, and that’s kind of what we were. Even twenty, thirty years ago.

And now they’re really designed to serve a community, to understand who our community is, to understand what the needs of the community are, and to figure out ways to address those needs, either directly or indirectly, through the programming that we do, and reaching out to the communities, the smaller aspects of the communities, to address particular needs.

So we’re doing programs here that deal with Alzheimer’s patients, people that are aging, and we find that the art tends to stir a lot of recollection and reminiscence about their lives and things that many people thought they’d forgotten about, but they’re still there. We’re using the art in many different ways. Obviously we work with children in an ongoing basis in a very wide range of ways. But it’s really about community now, and I think most successful museums have devoted themselves to community, whereas in the past we were devoted to the elite--and that’s no longer the case.

Todd Moe: What do you see as sort of the stronger aspects of the Hyde? As you were looking at the job was there something that you saw as exciting happening at the Hyde that drew you here?

C. G.: Yeah, there were several things. First of all, clearly the collection was one of the things that attracted me, because it has a great collection that allows you to do so many interesting things. Secondly, the strength of the staff, the level of scholarship that occurs here on a regular basis. The caliber of the exhibitions that have been done here in the last four or five years have been quite extraordinary. And the mission of the place of itself.

The founder's wish to make certain that the collection that she created, and the subsequent collections, would really be here to serve the community. She brought people into her home even before she ever made it a community-based museum. She was very community-oriented, and I like that, because that’s where my interests lie.

T.M.: Collaboration is a word that I hear a lot these days with arts council directors and theatres, and music directors and art gallery directors, so I assume that the collaboration is something on your mind when you look to the future?

C.G.: Oh, sure. And in fact currently the exhibitions that we’re doing are collaborations with the Georgia O’Keefe museum, and that’s been a really important and significant one. We’re working with the Adirondack Theatre Festival in aspects of this exhibition. We collaborated with the Adirondack’s Museum to accomplish the Stieglitz show. The nature of the work that we do, borrowing major works of art from institutions all over the country, involves that kind of collaboration, involves developing a sense of trust. We’re very much interested in that.

I’m personally very interested in what we can do in collaboration with the colleges and universities that are in the region. I know firsthand how important museums can be to students in the visual arts. So I really am looking forward to meeting more of the faculty at the area colleges and help them utilize the Hyde to reach their educational goals.

T.M.: Well, you’ve been there for just a few months. I’m wondering, have you thought about maybe a goal over the next year or something you’d like to take on in the coming months?

C.G.: Yeah, I think our principle objective, and my principle objective as I was looking at the institution, is they’ve reached the end of a five-year plan that began in 2009. So it’s time for us to sit down and take a look at the future of this institution again--to engage in strategic planning that involves the board and the staff, the people of the community and our potential partners of the region and really ask the question again (which we do every five years) who are we, where are we going, what is our purpose? The world is changing very quickly, and so it’s really important to engage in that kind of planning and to see where that takes us, so that we can establish ourselves and grow in a way that responds to actual needs rather than to just something that would be nice.

T.M.: Do you still spend time on art yourself?

C.G.: I do, I have always continued to work in the studio. Obviously, with a full-time job you don’t put in the kind of time that a full-time artist does, but I continue to work, and it’s a very big part of my life and I think it always will be.

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