Harvard University recently announced that Martha Tedeschi has been selected as the new Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard Art Museums. A longtime curator and accomplished scholar, Tedeschi launched her career as a National Endowment for the Arts intern at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she has worked her way up to deputy director for art and research. She will assume her new role at Harvard in July.
Tedeschi shared some thoughts on accepting the position, her excitement over the new role, and her vision for the Harvard Art Museums.
What makes you the right person for this job?
Having spent the majority of my career in the curatorial trenches, I feel I’m well prepared as well as highly motivated to lead the Harvard Art Museums. During my time at the Art Institute of Chicago, I’ve seen museum culture from many perspectives and experienced every level of museum operations. I’ve also come to understand just how important it is to have a staff that finds satisfaction in their work and knows that they are making a real contribution. This is really important to me: as an organization, you have to have the right aspirations, the right people, and the right goals to be successful.
What drew you to the Harvard Art Museums?
Harvard is and has always been a place with aspirations for excellence. The collections at the museums are world-class and the staff is top-notch. I believe that the Harvard Art Museums can take a leadership role in the evolution of museums as 21st-century resources, and I’m excited to help us move toward that goal.
I was also drawn to the collaborative work and the mission of the museums. When I begin my work at Harvard, I’ll be able to spend my time doing the things I feel most committed to: training students and the next generation of museum leaders, and elevating the importance and accessibility of visual literacy. In this image-saturated world, learning to look critically, to weigh subjective response with objective evidence, to develop analytical skills, and to value the role of creativity and intuition in our lives are essential skills for all of us. I see my role as helping to focus these conversations and, together with the outstanding staff of the museums, to forge a culture of leadership and inclusiveness.
How would you characterize this moment for you on a personal level?
This is an incredibly exhilarating moment. I love working with students and have an interest in investing in the current and emerging generation. And I love the idea of inviting the community to experience what we are doing at the Harvard Art Museums—to enrich lives with the extraordinary conversations and collaborations we will have, inspired by works of art and visual culture. I’m thinking about this job as my legacy to the future, not as a stepping-stone.
Did anything about taking this position give you pause?
There was a bit of self-doubt, but that was more about leaving an institution that I’ve been committed to for many years.
Harvard won me over very quickly. I was energized by the questions I was asked. The process made clear the kinds of meaningful collaborations that would be possible on an academic campus of this caliber.
Many museums strive to balance traditions and history with innovation and the ever-changing needs of society. How do you see the Harvard Art Museums accomplishing this work?
The museums’ vast collections offer almost infinite opportunities to share with our visitors the ways in which the past informs the present, and conversely how the issues of the present can make the past relevant again. Works of art can speak so eloquently about what makes us human, what connects and divides us, what inspires and provokes us, and how vital the impulse to make and create has always been across time and geographic boundaries. I believe this kind of perspective is one of the deep-seated needs of our society.