Bill Adair, director of Exhibitions & Public Interpretation at The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, is featured in the fall 2016 issue of Exhibition, a professional journal on exhibition theory for museum professionals, published by the American Alliance of Museums and the National Association for Museum Exhibition.
In an interview with editor Ellen Snyder-Grenier, Adair discusses the Center's approach to multidisciplinary grantmaking, the value of organizational collaboration and risk-taking, and trends in the museum and philanthropic fields. Excerpts from the interview follow.
Ellen Snyder-Grenier: In reading Pew's online and published material, it is clear that collaboration is one of your core values. Can you talk a bit about how that came to be at the Center, and why?
Bill Adair: We've frequently supported collaborations and multidisciplinary work when they have met our criteria for funding, but in the last few years we've noticed an increasing interest among our constituents in working across traditional boundaries. In consolidating our program categories at the Pew Center, we've been responding to the way artists and organizations work now. A history museum or an arboretum is just as likely to come to us for support of a contemporary art installation as they are a traditional didactic exhibition. Arts organizations continue to further blur disciplinary differences in their programming. Is it a performance or a gallery installation? Practitioners now often ignore these distinctions. We're following the work.
ESG: As a cultural grantmaker and thinker, what advice do you have for those who create exhibitions? What do you see as the benefits in coloring outside the lines—in creating work that is interdisciplinary, boundary shattering, or disruptive?
BA: Exhibitions are increasingly about providing complex experiences. Audiences seem to be expecting meaning-making as well as knowledge-sharing in their museum visits. There is so much smart and exciting work being done in experience development within many practices—art installation, participant-based performance, television, virtual reality, gaming—as well as exhibition-making. We'd be very interested to support experiments that demonstrate how we can learn from and with each other in these arenas. One thing is clear—the future is a mash-up of cultural practitioners engaging with audiences to create things we cannot yet even imagine.