By Melissa Silverman
This month, the Rubell Museum, a contemporary art museum preparing for opening on I Street SW, announced Caitlin Berry as its inaugural director.
In the role, Berry will oversee engagement with the DC community, public programs, museum operations, and work with the Don and Mera Rubell and Juan Valadez, Director of the Rubell Museum in Miami, to develop the DC museum’s exhibitions and installations drawn from the Rubell’s extensive collection of contemporary art.
“Caitlin’s knowledge and passion for the DC arts community make her the perfect partner for weaving the museum into the city and surrounding region,” said Mera Rubell in a press release. “She is deeply committed both to artists and to making art accessible to a wide range of audiences, which is our goal in creating this museum.”
Berry’s experience working with art communities across the DC metro region includes previously serving as Director of the Cody Gallery at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia and as Director at Hemphill Fine Arts, one of DC’s leading art galleries. Berry has also curated exhibitions at the Culture House in Southwest.
A champion of local artists, Berry curated the 2019 and co-curated the 2020 editions of Art Night, an annual exhibition and fundraiser to support the Washington Project for the Arts. She serves on the board of Tephra Institute of Contemporary Art in Reston, Virginia and is a member of the Washington, DC Chapter of ArtTable. She holds a Post Baccalaureate in Gallery Management and a B.A. in Communication and Art History from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
With renovations on the historic Randall Junior High site nearing completion, the Rubell Museum is slated to open October 29. As she prepares for her new role, Berry agreed to share her thoughts by email with The Southwester.
The Southwester: Congratulations on this new role. What is your vision for the museum, and what do you hope to accomplish as inaugural director?
Caitlin Berry: It is an enormous honor to work with the Rubells in sharing their bold collection with the DC community. We share a devotion to artists and art being made now, and our shared vision is what attracted me to the role initially. This vision is informed both by artwork by some of the most compelling artists working today and by the historic building in which it resides. The Randall School has been so lovingly brought back into use for this purpose and I look forward to filling its halls with new generations of curious minds who wish to learn something new.
SW: How do you see the museum fitting into the Southwest community? Can you address the physical space as well as any outreach events you may be planning?
CB: It is our hope that the museum serves as a community hub and beacon for the neighborhood, and that by revitalizing a local landmark, we will be bringing generations of DC residents back to this beloved building and reinvigorating it as a public and educational resource. While outreach and programming are still in development at this time, we are committed to ensuring that the museum is accessible to the local community through free admission for all DC residents.
SW: How is your working relationship with the Miami museum, and does the Rubell family see a connection between the DC and Miami locations? Why choose Southwest DC as the second location?
CB: The Miami and DC museums will operate as two distinct institutions, both committed to showcasing contemporary art. In terms of choosing DC as the location for a second museum, the Rubells have a long history with the city, and have interacted with the arts community here through studio visits, exhibitions, and loans to local institutions. The museum leadership team believes artists play an important role in contributing to the national dialogue, making DC a fitting location for audiences to engage with works that respond to the ideas and issues of our time. Southwest DC is home to a vibrant and engaged citizenship who are open to this new cultural resource that the museum provides. DC has given us an incredible opportunity to make the museum integral to the life of the neighborhood while preserving this historic building and once again making it accessible to the community.
SW: Tell us about your history in the DC-area art scene. What is unique or special about the arts community in our region?
CB: I have never been more excited about the art community here! Artists are flourishing, galleries are opening and arts leaders are collaborating across organizations and sectors. The DMV area is very special to me and has been very good to me since moving here in 2013. I had the great fortune of working for George Hemphill of Hemphill Fine Arts for many years when I first moved to Washington. There, I was introduced to the richness of the Washington Color School; artists like Alma Thomas, Sam Gilliam, Kenneth Victor Young, Gene Davis, Thomas Downing, Anne Truitt, William Chistenberry to name a few. These artists were living and working in the city in the 1960s and 70s amidst great social upheaval and change, not so different from the times we are living in now. Often these artists were teachers for subsequent generations of artists, many of whom live and work here today. It was working with and advocating for these contemporary artists which I found so fulfilling. Through my work as a dealer and advisor and most recently as Director of Cody Gallery at Marymount University, I continued working with local artists from Richmond to Baltimore to bring their visions to life. There’s truly no place like the DC region, unique in its humanity, resilience and inquisitive nature.
SW: What are your priorities in terms of showcasing artists of color or sharing a broad diversity of artists with your visitors?
CB: The Rubells have been collecting contemporary art since 1965 and during that time have been deeply engaged with supporting the work of artists of color. This is perhaps best articulated in the exhibition 30 Americans, which presents artwork by 30 Black artists in the Rubells’ collection and was actually shown here in DC at the Corcoran in 2011 and has been traveling to different venues nationally for the past 12 years. The Rubells’ dedication to sharing diverse viewpoints and lived experiences is the cornerstone of the museum’s educational mission both in Miami and now in DC. Our programming and partnerships in DC will reflect that commitment and vision for making the museum accessible and welcoming to all.
SW: As the museum approaches opening, what are you most excited about? Anything special planning for the grand opening or early months of operation?
CB: I’m most excited to inspire emotional connections to the artwork on view and welcome the local community to the Rubell Museum DC. We certainly have plans in the works for our opening programming and exhibition which will be rolled out in the coming months. We are looking forward to sharing those details with you!