Meet Lynn Boland, the New Director of the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art
By Jennifer Clary Jacobs
“The whole building is so lively,” says Lynn Boland enthusiastically. And with his infectious laugh and warm demeanor, the same could be said about the new director of the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art.
Lynn Boland brings more than 20 years of dynamic experience in various academic and university museum roles. Since 2009, he has been the Pierre Daura Curator of European Art at the Georgia Museum of Art and adjunct professor in the Department of Art History at the University of Georgia.
Boland received his undergraduate degree in art history from the University of Georgia and a master’s and doctoral degree from the University of Texas at Austin. He received his Ph.D. in 2014 for his dissertation: A Culture of Dissonance: Wassily Kandinsky, Atonality, and Abstraction about the dissonance in modern European art and music. Boland’s specialty is 19th and 20th century European art with a secondary emphasis in contemporary American art.
“Lynn’s broad and deep experience working with art and art museums will be a wonderful asset to CSU,” said Ben Withers, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, about the new director. “He brings clear and compelling vision for the Allicar that builds on the strong foundation created by Linny Frickman and the staff and faculty who serve the museum and its community.”
Despite his background and expertise, when Boland arrived at the University Center for the Arts in July, he planned to listen before talking, and get input before offering ideas, but he quickly discovered CSU’s can-do approach. “Linny [Frickman, former director of the museum] left everything so well organized and everyone has been so helpful that I was able to get up to speed more quickly than I could have imagined,” said Boland about his first month-and-a-half on the job.
A Trajectory of Excellence
As a campus and community gem, the museum’s strengths and appeal is three-pronged: a world-class collection spanning 2,000 years and countless cultures; a history of exceptional exhibitions and educational programs that are models of what an academic museum can offer; and state-of-the-art facilities that ensure responsible stewardship of the objects in the museum’s care.
In a recent museum newsletter, Boland stated his intent to continue the trajectory of excellence that is already solidly established, continuing to realize the vast potential of the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art as an exemplary resource. And if the title of director is synonymous with visionary, Dr. Boland’s desire to engage his visitors is at the heart of his purpose, creating deeper value and meaning for them through the collection, outreach and engagement, exhibitions and programming, and publications.
His complete conviction in the museum’s accomplishments over the past ten years, paired with his focused direction for it during the next five, has enthusiastically emerged as Boland admits to an unbridled optimism for what lies ahead. Immediate access to a swath of museum patrons and stakeholders enabled Boland to evaluate his initial vision for the museum. “Everything was preliminary, but I would double-down on every single thing I said before I even got the job,” he stated. “Strategies may have changed and people have offered great suggestions, yet the general shape of things to come is what I thought.”
And what exactly does lie ahead? In visiting with him, Boland shared compelling narrative for each of the four main areas previously mentioned. However, with the physical expansion of the museum footprint, combined with bringing the Hartford-Tandstad Collection in-house last year, Boland recognizes that the museum staff is realistically at capacity, “but happily so,” he adds, with a tone of admiration.
With that in mind, Boland doesn’t anticipate drastic changes from month to month.
“I do think it’s like watching your kid grow,” he mused. “Things are so good that I don’t need to rip anything down and start over, but in five years, you’ll notice the transformation because of the scale and caliber. It will all rise.”
The Art of Attitude
The Gregory Allicar Museum of Art is currently seeking national accreditation, and during a recent visit from the American Alliance of Museums, site visitors recognized the special environment perpetuated by the museum and its staff. For instance, they conceded that the strong relationship between the museum and the art department was unique, and they asked the secret.
Boland immediately credited the people at CSU, starting with Frickman. “The people here have good attitudes, are collaborative, and good in nature. Not only are they experts, but the friendly environment they’ve created more than contributes to it. It’s special.”
This summer, Boland witnessed a similar scenario on the Ram Tour for new hires, a two-day excursion showcasing the university’s impact around the state, while providing insight to the land grant mission. With his own agricultural lineage based in North Dakota ranching, Boland was particularly struck by the Betty Ford Alpine Botanical Garden in Vail, with its interesting and beautiful native plants, and warmed by the 4-H kids’ presentation in Eagle, Colo.
But what struck Boland most was that the university would do this for new hires. “I don’t know that every place does something like this,” he exclaimed. “Meeting people is what I’m all about, and to have it delivered perfectly, in as efficient and fun way possible – it did its job so well.”
For Boland, the Ram Tour illustrates the genuine support, deep caring, and thoughtfulness he’s experienced at Colorado State University so far.
“I feel pretty honored to be among those hired here.”
Vision Value One: Expanded Collection
At the core of any successful museum is the permanent collection. The approximately 3,000 works held by the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art include African and Native American objects and textiles, modern and contemporary works on paper, Japanese prints, and more. Another highlight is the Hartford-Tandstad Collection consisting of major works by pivotal figures in the history of European art, a small collection of Asian art, and an extensive collection of art research resources.
Boland’s plans to expand the collection in three strategic lines: one, to expand the depth within the current strengths of the collection, such as filling gaps within specific geographical or chronological areas; two, to expand the breadth of the collection where larger gaps exist, such as pre-Columbian art and south American and Mexican modern and contemporary art, providing a more comprehensive representation of the Americas; and finally, adding to the collection European modernism and international contemporary art.
“We need more examples of modernism to teach and display. As my primary area, I’m particularly primed to help grow this area,” he said. Boland is working especially hard to grow the collection of 20th-century Latin American art. “Aside from wanting to have a comprehensive and encyclopedic collection for teaching, a museum needs to reflect its community.”
A dual desire to support teaching areas and the expertise of current Department of Art and Art History faculty is achieved with this plan as collection development would intersect the interests and needs of faculty such as Arts of the Americas historian Catherine DiCesare, and African art expert David Riep. “If you do quality work, you attract more objects of quality,” Boland confirms.
Vision Element Two: Outreach and Engagement
For Boland, it is essential to further the museum’s outreach through curricular enhancement. “We’re launching a faculty ‘lunch and learn’ series, [inviting] faculty to come find out about our temporary exhibitions and permanent collections, and how they can be used for teaching.”
The new director’s desire is to serve all faculty and students, from humanities to science and math, with occasions to creatively engage with the visual arts. “I don’t care what discipline, there are connections,” Boland convincingly says. As he explains it, chemical analysis of paint pigments or readings from X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer can change the way art historians understand an object.
“We had accretions – basically left over beer crust – from our current African beer pot exhibition, which our chief preparator, Keith Jentzsch, collected and passed along to a professor of chemistry for analysis.”
For Boland, these sorts of useful and fascinating opportunities are almost limitless, and should be done on campus! “Things like this are an enormous benefit to the museum and to future scholarship, and they offer students insights into the wide ranging applications of their disciplines. Ideally, it’s a two-way street.”
A second engagement path will be partnerships with CSU’s Student Diversity Programs and Services. With the museum’s Native American and African permanent collections already in place and growing, collaborative opportunities with student groups can be implemented. However, the necessity of Boland’s collection expansion plan becomes obvious. “We need a permanent collection that serves our needs, as well as our audience’s,” he claims. “Not only do we need works in our collection that represent our communities, but we also need to constantly evaluate our interpretation of these objects.” The plurality of meanings embedded within any work of art, says Boland, provides limitless opportunities to make connections with people from the full spectrum of society. “This isn’t something anyone can do alone, so we’re inviting CSU’s Student Diversity Programs and Services in to help us explore new perspectives.” Boland is also connecting with the Pride Resource Center to do a safe zone training for museum staff.
A goal of obtaining 20th-century Mexican prints is not only important to filling gaps in the collection, but necessary for engaging student groups, like El Centro. Within the Native American collection, additional objects representing Northern Colorado are desired. ““Traditionally, collectors of these materials focus on Southwestern cultures, so our holdings are strong there, but we need more representations of tribes in our region, especially Ute.”
In the area of outreach and engagement, there doesn’t seem to be a cap on Boland’s ideas, which also include more community use of the collection. This includes everything from inviting arts and culture groups into the museum, to offering a class through Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. “I’m pounding the pavement to identify new community partners!” Boland stresses that the welcoming and collaborative attitude of CSU and Fort Collins makes this job fun.
Vision Value Three: Exhibitions and Programming
Now that the expanded museum footprint is established, Boland sees higher profile exhibitions and programming as another key to growth. Currently, a city-wide collaboration is in the early stage of development, as is an exhibition planned in coordination with the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising.
While there may be occasions to expand, solid programming has consistently been the essence of the museum’s popularity. From Critic and Artist Residency Series lectures and panels to the Music in the Museum Concert Series to the BRAINY (Brining Arts Integration to Youth) program, the museum is a resource for enhanced dialogue and educational experiences throughout the year.
“Patrick Fahey [professor of art education] is amazing and an incredible resource,” Boland states. The program, which serves about ten schools over twelve sessions each year, has played a key role in connecting Title 1 schools in Northern Colorado to the arts. “We’re so fortunate to have BRAINY – it’s an incredible program and should be expanded. We’d like to see every 4th grader in the district get to visit the museum . . . but that may take some time.”
Along with the entire museum staff, Boland is proud of the astonishing pace the museum has grown since opening in 2009, admiring the determination of former director Linny Frickman in establishing such a respected museum in the region. “The museum is a remarkable treasure on campus, established in such a way that building on the current model continues to be the right choice.”
Vision Value Four: Publications
A final chief priority in Boland’s plan is larger scale publications as he envisions expanding the museum’s educational capabilities. “The potential here is major,” exclaims Boland about the opportunity to encourage scholarship.
The caliber of the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art’s permanent collection dictates dissemination of information about it, as the museum holds significant pieces that could contribute to the study of those areas. Boland feels it is incumbent upon museums to publish so a piece becomes part of the known work. “If you’re studying an area, there is basically a set of analytical materials that you’re working with. If there are important objects that you don’t know about, it will limit your interpretation.”
And in keeping with the can-do attitude he cherishes, Boland wants to bring in other voices, in addition to historians, as information about the collection begins to be pushed out through a wide variety of platforms. “Formal publications have a wide reach, but I also see us gaining an online presence through blogs and write ups about works that might not fit other places.”
“But nothing replaces a printed collection,” Boland concludes, explaining that even limited distribution of a collection catalog through a variety of publishes, wholesalers, and retails encourages scholarship. “You don’t make money – most catalogs are break-even – but it is essential for the museum to make contributions to the field.”
Important for Boland are publications that are useful to the scholar, while accessible to patrons. “It’s nice for visitors to delve into the interpretations too – finding a balance of information and analysis is difficult to do, but particularly important,” says Boland, as he strives to serve the field and the public.
A Museum That Makes a Difference
For Boland, the level of the collection, combined with the expanded space, are the catalyst for his biggest need. “We need more staff and money to add more programs and grow the collection.” However, he won’t be immobilized as he demonstrates to patrons and donors how the museum already works with the collection at the highest level to achieve the furthest reach.
“We will keep showing just how much we can do with even modest support. It’s about offering potential donors opportunities to make real differences in people’s lives.”