UNC Greensboro’s Weatherspoon Art Museum is one of the city’s treasures.
Founded by Gregory Ivy in 1941, the museum has grown from being a university teaching gallery into a multi-gallery museum that is nationally recognized for its collections and exhibition program. It is considered one of the best collections of modern and contemporary art in the Southeast with close to 7,000 works that represent all major art movements from the beginning of the 20th century to the present.
For the past 22 years, the museum’s galleries, collection, and programs have thrived and grown under the skillful leadership of Nancy Doll, museum director.
Doll has advanced the mission of the Weatherspoon with supporters such as the National Endowment for the Arts, North Carolina Arts Council, Tannenbaum-Sternberger Foundation, Cemala Foundation, Joseph M. Bryan Foundation, Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, Andy Warhol Foundation, Deluxe Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.
With the curatorial staff, she has expanded diversity in the collections and exhibitions and she led the museum through three successful reaccreditation reviews by the American Alliance of Museums.
Doll has also worked on multiple catalogs and books that have accompanied Weatherspoon exhibitions, including those for “Keith Puccinelli: The Wondercommon,” “Jessica Stockholder/Kissing the Wall: Works, 1988-2003,” and “Mirror, Mirror: The Prints of Alison Saar/From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation.”
She has taken risks with exhibitions such as “Zone of Contention: The U.S./Mexico Border,” and she has planned upgrades for the museum building itself, including a renovation of the sculpture courtyard, currently underway.
And Doll has not only promoted the Weatherspoon’s reputation nationally but locally, with frequent talks, receptions, events for families, and the annual Solstice Party, which is one of Greensboro’s most loved summer events. She has also overseen the opening of a satellite Weatherspoon gallery at Well·Spring Retirement Community.
Doll steps down from the director position at the end of this month, and the WAM Family will celebrate her with a virtual event on Tuesday, June 16, at 6 p.m. The event will look back on her many achievements and fondest memories (Register HERE).
A few days later, June 20, the Weatherspoon celebration will continue with a car parade. WAM friends are invited to decorate their cars, bring noisemakers, and drive by the museum’s front entrance on Spring Garden St., where Doll will be waiting to wave at them at 4 p.m.
Online greetings, memories, and photos are welcomed June 15-20 and can be tagged #ThankYouNancy22. Messages and memories to accompany the virtual event can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “CHEERS.”
To get to know Doll and learn more about her experience at UNCG, read the interview below.
What do you remember about first coming to UNCG as museum director, and what impressions and memories will you take with you as you leave the role?
It was a difficult first year in that I had virtually no staff. The exhibitions curator had just left; the collections curator was leaving in six weeks, and the education curator was part-time and temporary. And I had an empty exhibition slot to fill in April in the McDowell Gallery. Still, I was very happy to be there, to begin to know the campus and the community, and I felt very welcomed.
My first impression was that the building needed to be enlivened – so we began to show works from our wonderful collection in the atrium. And, in a few years, we were able to renovate the courtyard to create an atmosphere that would prepare visitors for what was inside. We put up new signage, both on and around the building.
It’s so hard to select just a few memories. One is the opening of the Andy Warhol print exhibition when we popped small champagne bottles to give to guests as they entered. Another was Claribel Cone’s 100th birthday party – complete with an actress dressed as that grande dame. And, the first time I was able to really spend time with the DeKooning “Woman” and understand what a fabulous painting it is, and that the Weatherspoon owned it!
How has the museum changed and grown during your time as director?
I felt that a big part of my “charge” was to open up the museum to a wider audience and so we embarked on some of the strategies described above to make it more engaging and responsive. Attendance has risen steadily, and it’s become much more diverse through a concerted effort to diversify our exhibitions, collections, and programs. I think people have come to trust that we’re committed to supporting difference and diversity in every way we can.
The staff has grown somewhat to include an associate curator of education, a special assistant for external activities, and one full-time and one half-time security officer. We’ve been together long enough now that we really do work as a team, and everyone in this very talented and dedicated group pulls her or his weight ‒ and then some.
I believe the museum has grown to underscore its role as part of the academic mission of the University. In addition to providing tours for students, we have instituted a student gallery attendant program, and we work much more closely with other units and departments across campus to co-sponsor and collaborate on programs and to target faculty who may have particular interest in including the content of exhibitions within their curricula.
Could you describe a few of your favorite things in or about the museum?
I love the Tom Otterness “Frieze” and the way it brings the huge volume of space in the building’s atrium down to human scale. I also love that vast soaring space with the blue roof and clerestory windows. I also love the spiraling staircase up to the second floor with the windows that bring light into the space. And, although it’s not always open ‒ the tower that looks down on Tate and Spring Garden Streets.
I feel a sense of tranquility when I walk through the sculpture courtyard and into the museum. And, when I’m really feeling tense and overworked, I go into one of the galleries to look at art – talk about a job benefit!
How do you recommend people maintain their connection with art during this unusual time?
The museum staff is working very hard to produce meaningful ways for people to connect with us through social media. In addition to our weekly e-blast and WAMfam posts, we’re creating exhibition viewing rooms, and sharing artworks on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.) It’s a challenge now but as we learn more, it will become part of our ongoing programming.
What are your future plans?
I’m planning to stay in Greensboro (so I can still go to the museum!) and have a couple of projects in mind, both of which have been put on hold until travel is safer and other people are back to work. I might also do some consulting and have even considered training to be an appraiser. After 22 years, Greensboro has become home ‒ I love my little house in Fisher Park and have made so many wonderful friends ‒ I really don’t plan to leave in any foreseeable future.
Interview by Susan Kirby-Smith, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications, and by Scott Crowder and Youngdoo M. Carey