When we think of disruptors, we often focus on individuals who create life-changing new technologies, or those who make dramatic career leaps from one industry to another. Nancy Spector, recently appointed Deputy Director and Chief Curator at the Brooklyn Museum, after nearly 30 years as a lead curator at the Guggenheim, might, on the surface appear to be merely taking a natural, not particularly disruptive step within her field.
But appearances can be deceiving. For starters, the Guggenheim, certainly one of the world’s preeminent museums of modern art is, by definition, a disruptive institution in the art world. Couple that with Spector’s own emphasis on organizing exhibits of cutting edge artists, her passion for melding art with progressive political agendas and her work as a world leader in making museums and art more accessible via digital tools and it’s clear that her work is the antithesis of static. Her creative thinking and initiative in bringing to fruition the Guggenheim’s program, YouTube Play, a Biennial of Creative Video earned her a Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award.
The move to Brooklyn Museum is counterintuitive, and might be perceived by many in her field as a step back. The Brooklyn is an old-fashioned museum, an encyclopedic museum, as opposed to the focused niche institutions more common in recent decades. A curatorial position in this type of environment is not something Spector had ever imagined, according to an interview published in the New York Times NYT +0.00%. She is intrigued by the challenge to disrupt in this space: “Here’s a museum in which the collections are in fact global, and I began to think about what it would mean to examine that through a contemporary lens, so that they are relevant to the world we live in today. We’re in this global age and the model of an encyclopedic or a global museum is very old, and maybe it’s outdated, but it’s here to stay and we need to think about how to use it.”
As the Deputy Director and Curator at the Brooklyn Museum, Spector works closely with the Director to define the museum’s global strategy and oversee the creative programming for the institution and its affiliates around the world. Enjoy the following Q&A:
Whitney Johnson: What was a pivotal momentum of reinvention for you?
Nancy Spector: I have been on a curatorial track since graduate school, landing a job at the Guggenheim after an internship there. Reinventing myself and my goals within the same career has been constant by staying abreast of and responding to the new, and radicalizing our contemporary programming. As Chief Curator I can now pave the way for other, younger curators to do the same and more.
Johnson: Who has been a valuable mentor or sponsor?
Spector: The artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996) who taught me that you can best disrupt from within by using the very tools most people consider traditional.
Johnson: What is your biggest goal right now?
Spector: To expand the notion of an art museum from a repository of unique, aesthetic objects to a dynamic, multi-disciplinary and catalytic environment that can effect real social change.
Johnson: What time do you typically wake up? What do you do every morning?
Spector: 5:00 a.m. in order to have some quiet time before I get my daughters ready for school. I try to go on a long bike ride every morning before work.
Johnson: How did you feel on your 30th birthday? What were you doing at that time?
Spector: I felt totally relieved to be leaving my 20s and excited about what lay ahead. I had just begun working on my first exhibitions at the Guggenheim.
Johnson: How do you unplug? How often do you unplug?
Spector: I go for bike rides or swims as often as possible. On vacation I love reading fiction well into the night when everyone else is asleep.
Johnson: What’s the best networking contact you’ve made? How did you make it?
Spector: I just recently attended an amazing retreat on leadership and vision hosted by Spark Camp that was filled with talented people from all kinds of disciplines. The genius behind the format was that we all are friends and eager to help one another in our respective fields.
Johnson: What cause do you most want to advance?
Spector: I advocate for rights for girls around the world, particularly in developing nations. My daughter is a Teen Advisor for Girl Up, a UN Foundation group that has become my cause as well.
Johnson: What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Spector: Live within your means so that you can make major changes at any time.
Johnson: Who of the Forty over 40 Honorees would you like to meet?
Spector: Anne-Marie Slaughter, because I, too, struggle with and fight for work/life/family balance and think it is a feminist issue that must be addressed at the legislative level.
This post originally published at Forbes