Meet Our Staff: Gretchen Dietrich, Executive Director

Allow me to introduce Gretchen Dietrich, Executive Director of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. In addition to this role, she also participates in the Association of Art Museum Directors, and this summer has been selected for the elite Getty Museum Leadership Program. So far nearly a thousand executives have passed through the program, including Neal Benezra, director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Olga Viso, director of the Walker Art Center (check out a fascinating profile of the program by the New York Times here). All of this in addition to being a mom! Before I crash the entire WordPress server by trying to sum up all that she does, I’ll let her do it in her own words:

From October 20, 2012, Sun Tunnels viewing with Nancy Holt, organized by the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) as part of Nancy Holt Sightlines, a traveling exhibition organized by the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, on view October 19, 2012-January 20, 2013 at the UMFA. Image courtesy Utah Museum of Fine Arts.

Gretchen with her husband, Monty Paret, who is associate professor of art history and associate dean of the Honors College at the U, together at Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels in 2012

5 Questions for Gretchen Dietrich 

What is your role at the UMFA? 

I’m the executive director – that means I’m ultimately responsible for a lot but I also get to work with a large staff of talented, dedicated people who work with me to move the mission of the Museum forward. Together we develop the creative program of the museum including the exhibitions we mount, the art we collect, and the public programming we implement.  That said, I spend a lot of my time in conversation with people in the community – locally and nationally – who help to make the work of the Museum possible with gifts of art, money, time, and passion. I spend a lot of time communicating with the campus and the larger community about the good of the Museum and the power of art.

Gretchen in the Great Hall talking to second graders about Lawrence Weiner and Conceptual Art. (photo courtesy of curator Whitney Tassie)

Gretchen in the Great Hall talking to second graders about Lawrence Weiner and Conceptual Art. (photo courtesy of curator Whitney Tassie)

In a typical day, I work with a variety of people on a number of amazing projects, issues, and challenges. I do receive more e-mails than I could ever possibly return, and if I’m lucky, I get to slip into the galleries and talk to people about art – working with elementary students, U of U students, or sometimes adults and giving tours of the Museum’s permanent collection and special exhibitions.

Another part of my job that I love is working with curators to identify important works of art to bring into the collection. We build a case for why an artwork would be a great addition to our collection (numbering now more than 19,000 objects!). A director’s greatest legacy just might be the artwork that comes into the collections during his or her tenure. I hope fifty years from now, people will look upon the acquisitions we’ve made and think “Alright! They did a great job way back in the early 2000s.”

What is your favorite work in the collection, and why?

This is like asking me to say which of my children I like most! One piece I do like very much is the 17th century Dutch painting Memento Mori by van der Vinne in our second floor galleries. It is a superb example of this kind of painting – a very typical Northern European genre scene – that is ultimately a reminder of the fleeting nature of life and the importance of living one’s life fully and richly, with more than a hint of a moralizing reminder that we can’t take any of it with us! The virtuosity of the artist is indicative of the kind of work we strive to collect- the way he is able to create so many different textures – silk, stone, feathers, wood, and parchment. It truly is a feast for the eyes and yet it is packed with so much meaning – I’ve had some of my most meaningful conversations in front of this picture with young kids and adults alike.

"Memento Mori," Vincent Laurensz van der Vinne. Dutch, 1656. Purchased with funds from the Marriner S. Eccles Foundation for the Marriner S. Eccles Collection of Masterworks.

“Memento Mori,” Vincent Laurensz van der Vinne. Dutch, 1656. Purchased with funds from the Marriner S. Eccles Foundation for the Marriner S. Eccles Collection of Masterworks.

When you’re not at the museum, where might we find you?

When I’m not working, I love hanging out with my family – my husband and two kids and my in-laws. We love to eat out – so you might find me at Pago or Takashi. We love to ski and spend many weekends up in Big Cottonwood Canyon skiing and snowshoeing and – in summer – hiking. I also really love being out in the desert – camping when we can, visiting Spiral Jetty or Sun Tunnels, or some of the State and National Parks in our region. We have now been in Utah for more than ten years and we love our adopted state – it’s huge and there is still so much in the region we’ve yet to see.

Gretchen's son, Julian, with Mayor Ralph Becker, on a visit to Spiral Jetty. Says Gretchen, "It was so fun to take Mayor Becker out to see the Jetty - and JJ was very excited to meet him!

Gretchen’s son, Julian, with Mayor Ralph Becker, on a visit to Spiral Jetty. The UMFA is a collaborating partner with the Dia Art Foundation, the steward of Spiral Jetty, and Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster College.

What are your interests?

I love cooking great meals for my family and friends. I love to ski and chase my husband and kids down the mountain on a regular basis. I enjoy a lovely glass of wine or a snazzy cocktail from time to time, and I love being in the company of my smart and amazing friends. Art, of course, does play a big part in my life – thinking about it, looking at it, reading about it. My work in the museum field has always been fueled by the simple but long-held believe that art is essential and that artists can show us new ways of thinking about the world and ourselves. Every day that I get to go to work in a museum is a good day. I love what I do!

You play so many roles–could you talk a bit about your work-life balance?

To be honest, I  don’t balance these roles as well as I wish I could.  I am sometimes too busy. I feel like I’m five or ten minutes late to everything. But I love what I do and feel so lucky to have the opportunity to work with the University administration, the Museum’s dedicated and talented staff and Board of Directors, and other volunteers to create the program and set the goals and vision for this great Museum. When I’m at work, I work hard and focus my energy on the work of the Museum. But when I’m home, I try very hard to be present for my family and to have fun with them. My work at the Museum is a top priority, but being a mom is hands-down the most important work of my life.

Gretchen Dietrich, Executive Director of the UMFA, seen here with her beautiful children.

Gretchen Dietrich, Executive Director of the UMFA, seen here with her beautiful children.

We’re proud of you, Gretchen, and thanks for all you do!

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