By Priscilla Rodriguez | m/Oppenheim Media Writer
“The Speed Art Museum is both 90 years old and one-year-old,” says Interim Director Stephen Reily, who has been with the Kentucky institution since April, nearly one year after it reopened to the public in March of 2016 after undergoing a $60M expansion.
“In terms of being one year old, we’re always really trying to rethink our relationship to our community and to our state,” says Reily, reshaping what it means to be a “state” museum, while also celebrating its influence as Kentucky’s oldest and largest art museum, established in 1925.
During his first few months at the museum, Reily says his role has been a unique one, considering his experience in the art world and as an entrepreneur.
Prior to joining as the museum’s Interim Director, Reily had run several businesses of his own and all the while had been a strong supporter of the arts, serving on the board of the New Museum in New York and as a Chair of the Board of the Creative Capital Foundation, which awards grants to artists nationally. He was also deeply connected with the Speed, serving on the board for ten years when he first moved to Louisville in 1995.
“I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of the museum and the role of arts in building a stronger city here in Louisville, and I am fascinated with museums and the difference that the arts can make in communities,” he said.
Long before the museum sought his leadership, Reily was in conversation with the museum’s Curator of Contemporary Art, Miranda Lash, who approached him for his photography collection for an exhibit entitled “Southern Elegy” (March 17 – October 14, 2017), which explores the American South through the complex themes of loss, ruins, beauty and violence.
“I wasn’t even used to the idea of sharing [my collection] with the public,” said Reily.
“Now, it actually gets to be part of my job and I am getting to see a lot of my life come together in one position.”
Reily expressed that although the collection was his own, the co-curator, Lash, really shaped the exhibit, selected works, and framed the show in a way that helped him understand the collection from a new perspective that he hadn’t considered.
Throughout his journey at the museum, Reily says he’s found surprises at every turn, and more than obstacles, he’s found a lot of opportunities.
“It’s been interesting for me as someone who has been on museum boards, who knows a lot about museums from the governance seat, to really see what it’s like on the inside,” he said.
“I’ve been pleasantly overwhelmed by how hard everybody works for the museum and how much stamina they have — and really just their passion.”
He explained that in his conversations with everyone from the senior staff to security guards, he’s found that many of them are practicing artists on the side, and everyone’s passion for the museum and its success is far beyond what most would fathom.
“It really excited me to realize that everyone who works in the museum really, really wants to work in the museum — that this is the place they want to be more than any other place, every day.”
As the museum continues to build on its 90-year legacy to the art world of Kentucky, Reily says the next biggest goal for the institution is to have its art reach more communities through regional partnerships with arts institutions, such as the one it will launch with the Indiana University art museum in Bloomington later this year.
And next year, the museum will launch its groundbreaking exhibition entitled “Women Artists In The Age of Impressionism,” which celebrates the accomplishments of female artists who helped pave a bright future for other artists, and which also salutes the institution’s female founder, Hattie Bishop Speed — all in a continued celebration of art and the impact that it can have on everyone’s lives.