The Hart Cluett Museum in Troy, New York has tapped an industry veteran as its new executive director. Star D’Angelo, who most recently served as director of philanthropy and strategic initiatives at the Palace Performing Arts Center in Albany, takes over for Karin Krasevac-Lenz, who retired earlier this year.
D’Angelo, who has worked at the Old Stone Fort Museum in Schoharie and with the Shaker Heritage Society, spoke with WAMC about the Hart Cluett, formerly known as the Rensselaer County Historical Society.
D’Angelo: I actually have been familiar with this institution for many, many years. Years ago, I did a formal evaluation of a Smithsonian exhibition that they had had at the museum. So I knew that they had a long history of presenting some really good quality exhibitions, it had a really wonderful collection. And I've known the staff there for many years. So when this opportunity presented itself, I was very interested right away. It's also a regional historical society. So it's a fabulous opportunity to serve the entire county, and a large population of people. In the past, I've worked in museums that were wonderful, but a little bit more narrowly focused. So I'm really excited about having really broad focus and be able to share so many different kinds of stories with the community.
Levulis: And what is it about the history of Rensselaer County that you find so interesting?
D’Angelo: Well, you know, geographically it's in a fascinating location. I think it touches on so many different aspects of American history that are incredibly timely and important right now. From you know, Uncle Sam, the personification of America, to the labor history in Troy. I just think there's so much to look at and explore, and I just happen to be somebody who's really intellectually curious. So I'm interested in the agricultural history of the region, as well as the industrial history and the decorative arts that are held in the Hart Cluett Manson itself. There's just so much to explore. It's very exciting.
Levulis: You worked for 15 years at the Shaker Heritage Society, including as executive director and in curatorial roles, do you plan to dive back into that sort of work at the Hart Cluett, the curatorial role?
D’Angelo: No, they actually have a professional curatorial staff there. So I will be very interested in the work that they're doing. But my role will be to lead the organization into the next phase of its development. So I'm going to be focusing more on building connections within the community, generating a broader base of support for the organization so that the talented professional staff, the county historian, the town historian, the curator, and all the other staff who are involved there, so they can continue to do their very good work.
Levulis: And on that point of expanding the support, I want to shift to the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems to ingratiate itself in every single topic. Once more restrictions are lifted and more people are vaccinated, so many different sectors of the economy are going to be competing for people's time. Now that you know more restrictions are lifted and people feel safer to go out in public. How do you plan to get people to come to the Hart Cluett in that competitive environment?
D’Angelo: Well, you know, I think that's a question that I'm going to need to address in partnership with the staff and our board. They're much more familiar with the community. I will be a brand new person coming into the scene, so I'm going to be listening to them a lot. One thing that I know we want to do is to have a broader reach throughout the county, not just in downtown Troy. So there might be opportunities to do some programming outdoors. That will be different or unique. I mean, one of the great things about a history museum is you have so many different opportunities for engaging the community. And that's what museums are really good at. So I'm going to draw upon that expertise that already exists, and then we will find some creative solutions moving forward.
Levulis: Was there anything else you wanted to add as you head into this new role?
D’Angelo: Yeah, I think one of the things that is really important to me is to begin listening first. So I'm really eager to hear from the community about what's important to them, and to initiate a dialogue about what you do with a beautiful early 19th century house. You know, how do you make that space more engaging and more useful for the local community? I mean, it's wonderful the way as it is right now, you walk through these gorgeous spaces with these beautiful room settings that are quite historically accurate. So you get some insight into the lives of one family. But I'd like to expand beyond that to see if there are more stories that we can tell through that house and make that house feel like a place that belongs to everybody in the community.