Director, Hammer Museum, UCLA
In January 1999, Ann Philbin became director of the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Under her leadership, the Hammer’s public profile has increased dramatically through the establishment of dynamic exhibitions and public programs. Ms. Philbin has also instituted an active acquisition program, the Hammer Contemporary Collection, and has overseen the building and opening of the Billy Wilder Theater in December 2006.
Prior to her arrival at the Hammer, Ms. Philbin was director of The Drawing Center in New York for nine years. Before taking the helm of The Drawing Center, Philbin was an independent curator, organizer of large-scale public art exhibitions, and director of the Curt Marcus Gallery. Ms. Philbin sits on the board of directors of the Foundation for Arts Initiatives (formerly the American Center Foundation) and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). She is a past board member of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts (2000 to 2008). Ms. Philbin was also a committee member of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibitions as well as the Mayor’s Los Angeles Economy and Jobs Committee (LAEJC).
No doubt, we are all experiencing challenging times. The silver lining of the situation is that institutions are forced to be flexible and to think creatively about their programs and resources, which can lead to exciting innovation. For example, the Hammer has long suffered from not having a visitors’ services department, which is standard at most museums. Resources would not allow us to simply build a new department. However, when the James Irvine Foundation invited us to apply for their Arts Innovation Grant, we took the opportunity to address our need for visitor services in a new and creative way.
Beginning in the fall of 2009, artists began work with our curatorial staff to create a new kind of interactive museum featuring an artist-driven visitor engagement and education program that encourages daily contact among visitors, artists, and museum staff and activates the spaces, exhibitions, and Hammer website in imaginative ways. Artists explore and address all aspects of a visit to the Hammer, from basic amenities, wayfinding and maps to visitor engagement and the creative activation of spaces around the museum. The Hammer also intends to create more transparency between its staff and audiences by exposing some of the inner workings of the museum. For example, visitors may be presented with spontaneous opportunities to have a brown bag lunch with curators and the director or to visit the Hammer conservation studio. The Hammer has created an organic way of working with artists, not only in their capacity as object makers but also as problem solvers. They are helping us to be a better, more dynamic institution.