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John Lamb, Published June 06 2010

Sheehy makes her mark on the Plains

Eighteen months into her tenure as director and CEO of the Plains Art Museum, Colleen Sheehy finds herself wearing another hat.

Since Rusty Freeman, who was the museum’s chief curator, left the Plains last summer, Sheehy has taken over curatorial duties on top of her other responsibilities.

The Plains’ newest show, “The White Album: The Beatles Meet the Plains,” is the second in a row to have Sheehy’s fingerprints all over it. Sheehy developed the previous exhibit, “Individual to Icon,” using connections she’d established at her previous position as director of education at the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis.

Sheehy says the nationwide recession has forced the Plains to hold tight on filling the open curator position but that once the budget allows, she will rehire.

“I really can’t and don’t want to do it all for an indefinite amount of time,” she says.

In the next year, she’s collaborating with guest curators from the area universities to showcase pieces from the Plains’ permanent collection.

The exhibits will include a fall show of Fargo photographer and collector Fred Scheel’s works, highlights from Minneapolis’ Vermillion print shop in February and a 2011 summer show featuring selections from Herbert and Dorothy Vogel, the New York contemporary art collectors who divvied up their collection, giving 50 pieces to one museum in each of the 50 states.

“One of the things we’re doing over the next year is showcasing the strengths of the collection,” Sheehy says. “We want to showcase some of the valuable treasures that belong to the community.”

Sheehy says the downturn in the economy has forced many museums to look at their own collections rather than bring in expensive touring shows. Earlier this year, a survey by the Association of Art Museum Directors showed that 70 percent of museum directors planned to feature more of their permanent collection in the near future.

And it’s not just work by the big-name artists with touring exhibits that cost so much. For example, Sheehy says the Plains paid a couple thousand dollars just to ship and insure Kehinde Wiley’s 6-by-5-foot painting for the “Icon” show – and that was one piece of the exhibit.

Despite the tight financial situation, Sheehy is happy with the Plains’ capital campaign, which is $1.9 million short of its $7.3 million goal.

“I think we’ve done amazingly well on the campaign, especially since the recession,” she says, noting that $2.4 million has been raised since December 2008.

Some endeavors are already under way. Last month the skylight windows over the atrium were replaced with shaded glass to reduce ultraviolet rays. This was done in preparation for the Oct. 7 unveiling of a commissioned mural by James Rosenquist, the pop-art icon born in Grand Forks. The mural, which is already in the building, will be installed in the Plains’ atrium.

Also in the fall, Sheehy hopes work will begin on the museum annex to the west at 714 1st Ave. N. She hopes the building will be operational by the fall of 2011.

“We want the campaign to be done so we can focus on programming,” Sheehy says.


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533