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BMAC curator picked for national arts panel

Leahy names Mara Williams to U.S. Senate Curatorial Advisory Board

BRATTLEBORO—Mara Williams, the chief curator of the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, now has a bigger canvas to work her magic upon.

In September, Williams was appointed to the U.S. Senate Curatorial Advisory Board. She nominated by U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who is a member of the five-member U.S. Senate Commission on Art.

In addition to Leahy, the other commission members are Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Pat Roberts, R-Kansas.

The U.S. Senate Curatorial Advisory Board was established in 1999 and oversees the U.S. Senate’s art collection and is composed of historians, curators, and experts from institutions across the nation.

It was established to provide guidance and assist the Senate Commission on Art on acquiring, preserving, restoring, and replacing historical documents, artifacts, and works of art relating to the Senate wing of the Capitol and the Senate office buildings.

The board is responsible for identifying historically important items, researching the Senate’s historical objects, and advising the Commission on all curatorial matters.

For Williams, the appointment is a great honor.

“While our work is purely advisory, it is exciting to be with some of the leading people in the field of 18th and 19th century preservation,” she said.

That Leahy, who has been a longtime friend of Williams and her late husband, U.S. Appeals Court Judge James L. Oakes, insisted on Williams’ presence on the advisory board, means even more to her.

“Pat wanted a modern, contemporary voice on the advisory board,” she said. “I am a trained generalist who’s been taking care of a building that’s on the National Register of Historic Places for the past 24 years. And, sooner or later, the Senate will be looking at buying some contemporary art for the Capitol.”

Williams, a Brattleboro resident, said advocacy will be a big part of her new post.

“Our board makes the case for why a restoration or preservation project is needed,” she said. “I’m very experienced when comes to advocacy for the arts and historic preservation, and I know my way around Capitol Hill.”

As this is only a part-time position, Williams said she is keeping her job at BMAC.

“However, this position helps me spread the word about the museum and Vermont. It’s good for our institution, and for the state, to be out there in the wider world.”

Williams has been with BMAC since October 1989, when she was brought in to be its director/curator. In her nine years in that role, she was instrumental in building the museum into one of the cornerstones of the Brattleboro’s art scene.

She stepped away from management in the late 1990s to focus on curating exhibits, and became BMAC’s chief curator in 2004. Over the past 24 years, she has curated more than 300 events at BMAC.

She received her B.A. in theater at Boston College, her M.F.A. in museum studies from Syracuse University, and pursued doctoral course work at New York University before taking her first position with BMAC. She is a former chair of the Vermont Arts Council and a former board member of the New England Museum Association.

She also owns Arts Bridge, LLC, a small curatorial and exhibition consulting firm, and serves on the board of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #224 (Wednesday, October 9, 2013).

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