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Claremont Museum of Art welcomes a new director

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

The Claremont Museum of Art, long a well-loved local treasure, is about to expand on that regional renown with new gallery space and exhibitions, all spearheaded by a dynamic new director, Adrienne Luce.

“This organization, this institution, is very much on the precipice of really just exploding as a new institution,” Luce told the COURIER.

That pending eruption is also literal. The museum, housed since 2016 in the historic Claremont Depot, will open two new galleries that will double its footprint, from 1,000 to approximately 2,000 square feet, in April 2022.

Luce uses words like “perfect,” “stunning” and “glorious” to describe the new spaces.

“They’re just very aesthetically beautiful, inspiring spaces,” she said. “It’s really going to be an incredible addition to the entire community.”

With its new gallery spaces and exhibitions, and with more than 100 pieces in its permanent collection, CMA is set to re-brand itself as a higher profile player in Southern California’s rich array of powerfully focused small museums.

“There are donors that want to donate, so we’re very much going to expand the permanent collection,” Luce said. “All the planets are lined up.”

Luce, 51, was born in San Francisco. She graduated from Arizona State University with a double major in art history and fine arts in 1992, and earned her master’s degree in sculpture from Claremont Graduate University in 1994.

“I love Claremont,” she said. “I mean, I went to school there. It’s a community I really know and I love. It’s nice to get outside of L.A. and be in a community that’s so tight knit.”

She lives in West L.A. in the house her father grew up in. She’s has been commuting to the City of Trees for three weeks now, but with her flexible schedule — and a few favorite podcasts cued up in the car — it’s not been too taxing.

Her CV reveals a long, varied history of foundation, nonprofit and volunteer work, notably as an education specialist at The J. Paul Getty Museum for nearly a decade, where she oversaw the design and delivery of arts education programs for 80,000 students and teachers per year. She also helped boost the museum’s social media reach, which hit 3 million followers by the time she left. As the executive director of the HMC Architects Designing Futures Foundation, she oversaw the investment of $1.4 million to more than 100 nonprofits. She served as the executive director of the Brentwood Art Center; as a consultant for the Los Angeles County Arts Commission; and as the executive director of the California State Summer School Arts Foundation. She has also served on numerous nonprofit boards, including Inner-City Arts, MOCA Contemporaries, and the Craft Contemporary Craft Council, and currently on the LA County Department of Arts and Culture Funders Council.

She’s well-versed in Claremont’s storied art history, and is set on raising the CMA’s profile, both in the region and right here in town.

“I think the community of Claremont and its artistic legacy really cannot be underestimated in the context of California art and art history,” Luce said. “Sometimes in your life it takes a fresh voice or fresh perspective to say wait a minute; what you’re doing is amazing, or what you have is amazing. It’s always easy to overlook things that we make take for granted because it’s right there.”

Luce’s love of art is no public relations talking point. She’s a colorful interview, giving thoughtful, well-informed answers to all manner of questions. Her zeal for her work is undeniable, so much so that she calls her job an “occu-passion.”

 

Earlier this month the Claremont Museum of Art announced the appointment of artist Adrienne Luce as its new director. Luce, who lives in Los Angeles, received her MFA in sculpture from Claremont Graduate University. Her first day was October 11 and she is excited about the new expanded galley space at CMA which will open soon. COURIER photo/Steven Felschundneff.

 

The genesis of that passion was stoked when she was just 14 and attended a pre-college summer program for high school students at L.A.’s Otis College of Art and Design. It was an experience that would set the course for her entire life.

“I think I was one of those young people who really never had found where I belonged,” Luce said. “It was a residential, four-week program. It was revelatory. I was absolutely immersed in art. I was around other young people who shared my passion, and it truly was life-changing.”

Since that day she’s had the very good and rare fortune of being on just one professional path. Thirty-seven years on, she’s built a resumé that would no doubt be the envy of her adolescent self; and she’s still immersed in art.

“I think it’s essential to the human soul,” she said. “And I personally have experienced the way art can transform one’s life.”

Her new job comes at a most opportune time, both for her and for the Claremont Museum of Art.

She’s excited by good work happening in the region, citing the soon to be opened Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture of the Riverside Art Museum, The American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in L.A., and of course on the Claremont Colleges campuses, including Pomona College’s new Benton Museum of Art, as signs something big is happening.

“It feels like another cultural renaissance in Southern California, with so much incredible energy happening around the arts. Any way that we can amplify each other’s work and support each other’s work and collaborate, again, I think that’s absolutely the kind of esprit de corps we want to embrace.”

Claremont Museum of Art opened at the Packing House in February 2006. Board member Catherine McIntosh — daughter of founder Marguerite McIntosh — has been in charge of publicity, the annual Padua Hills Art Fiesta (which takes place November 7), and has curated an astounding 26 exhibitions, since the museum closed its Packing House location in 2009. She’s now working alongside Luce on CMA’s December exhibit of sculpture, “John Frame: Mephistopheles and the Swan Girl.” After that, she’ll turn over the reins to its ebullient new director.

“That’s what attracted me to the position: the level of excellence that permeates the entire organization,” Luce said. “From the level of exhibitions they’re doing, to the education programs, to the physical space.”

It’s no secret that public arts funding in the United States pales in comparison to similarly developed European nations. A National Endowment for the Arts study tracing arts spending found the U.S. spent $6 per capita on the arts, while Finland spent $91, Germany $85, and France $57. And it seems every five years or so Congress threatens to eliminate N.E.A. funding altogether. But the reality is the N.E.A. makes up a miniscule fraction of the federal budget. In fiscal year 2020 Congress funded it to the tune of $162.5 million, representing approximately .003 percent of the $4.79 trillion federal budget.

“I think there are a lot of arts leaders, such as myself, who are aware of this case for support, who use it and promote it,” Luce said. “And I think it’s a really good way of talking about what we do and why we do it, and why your art class in elementary school matters. It connects it to this larger pipeline.”

The ideas that took hold of that idealistic 14-year-old girl and never let go have only gotten bigger in the intervening years.

“I think the piece that I also like to emphasize is — and again, this kind of goes very big picture — but our world, humanity is facing unprecedented challenges, and I truly believe we need creative change makers who can imagine a new future. That is what gets me up in the morning every day. That is what drives my life. I really believe that the arts allow us to imagine the possibilities. And I think now more than ever this conversation is more pressing than ever. So, it really does connect to this larger economic context, but also this larger global urgency — whether it’s climate change or homelessness, poverty or social justice and racial equity — we need young people who can think differently. Because what we’re doing is not working.”

It’s heady stuff, especially for the director of a small, regional museum. But Luce’s infectious intensity is easy to buy into. She’s determined to walk the walk and raise the C.M.A.’s profile, and I, for one, would not bet against her.

“I never think size matters,” she said. “I think your vision should be audacious and bold, and I think you can really change the world and do incredible things.”

Luce welcomes comments from members of the community, through open office hours, via phone at (909) 621-3200, or via email to aluce@claremontmuseum.org.

 

 

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