Wesley Jessup 

Wesley Jessup has only been on the job for three weeks, but he's got big plans. As the new executive director of the Boise Art Museum, Jessup hopes to translate the experience he gained as the founding director of the Pasadena Museum of California Art in the Los Angeles area into creating a stronger and more vibrant Boise institution.

What is your training?

I have a master's in art history from the City University of New York, and I began my career in New York at the Guggenheim Museum—I was there for about five years before heading west and coming to Pasadena ... My education's been very focused on art history, but my experience has been much more management—museum and nonprofit kind of management, planning and budgeting and finance. Strangely enough, I've been kind of trying to balance those two things in my career.

What first interested you in art?

I always had an interest in it growing up. I had this moment in college where I took basic intro to art, and I loved it, so I started taking more, and I did my junior year abroad in Florence [Italy]. So I had some really great exposure to the Renaissance era and art and architecture, and I loved it. I came back and I majored in that, and then I went straight into a master's program. I kind of fell in love with it. I didn't really know what I would do with it. When you're in college, it's hard to imagine. I wasn't on a career path to become a lawyer or [into] business, I just kind of felt my way through and had some really great opportunities land in my lap. Especially working for the Guggenheim.

What was your job at the Guggenheim?

I was eventually promoted to manager of museum planning for international programs. They had quite an international presence, especially in Europe—Bilbao, Spain; Berlin, and Venice, Italy—and I was able to work with the exhibitions that were being organized and curated at those institutions, so it was a really great gig.

What prompted the move to Boise?

What I'm really interested in, career-wise, was being in a place that has deeper roots, a longer history. There was much more stability here, and I think my skills and talents are going to be used much more. I think I'll be able to do a lot here. I think I'll really be able to continue to build the exhibition program and, hopefully, the staffing. There's an amazing staff here already. They do a lot. It's pretty phenomenal what goes on here. I want to continue to build on that. Being at a place where you have this really solid staff and board presence allows a director like myself to really work on new and exciting and different initiatives. To bring the museum more exposure, to really bring it more into a national playing field.

Where do you think the museum is now?

The museum's in a great place in regard to this sort of internal structure. It has a very strong structure. It has very committed board members. It has a committed staff. There's a lot of museums that are not like that. Museum staff can be very difficult sometimes, boards can be very contentious groups of people. When I came up and started talking to Boise Art Museum about this possible transition, I sensed immediately that there was a real strength to the staff and the board that I felt would be a place to begin to really work and to build on.

Where would you like to see it in the future?

I'd like to see much more presence in this community. I'd like to continue to bring nationally recognized artists here, while showcasing local artists. I mean, we're always going to be doing that because I think they've always had a strong commitment here, historically, to showing particularly Boise and Idaho artists. Our Idaho Triennial is a good example of that. I'm very interested in this community. The presence that it has now, I think, could be strengthened a lot. One thing I've noticed is that we basically have the best real estate in town. We're on the best street, we're in the best park, and somehow, even with those great assets, I don't think we're noticed as much as we could be. So I'm looking for ways to really increase the exposure of the museum in the community. I want to continue to build on the outreach and education programs we have, which are very strong right now, actually. The museum's message also has to be marketed very carefully and very strategically, and that's something, with the growth of the Treasure Valley, that's something that maybe hasn't kept up. So I think there's a lot of people who don't really know about the museum. This is an area that we need to do a lot of work in. One of the initiatives I'm very keen on is building that awareness and thinking through it with people in Boise, but also people farther out, and understanding what brings them into town—besides the mall or their job. I'm very interested in looking at that. Admissions here are decent, they're OK, but they could be a lot better. Membership, same way.

What does it take to get people into art museums?

You have to remind people that you're there. This is one of the reasons I say this building is a great opportunity, this space we have is a great opportunity to remind people. So I'm looking at new signage. I'm looking at ways that we can take artists that work inside the museum, and have them work outside the museum, and so the museum exterior becomes a space for art. And I'd love to bring that kind of recognition into thinking outside the gallery space and looking at the wider field of how and where art can be displayed. Because there's a lot of artists who work in a very large, environmental, outdoor scale right now, and it's a great opportunity for us to capture and seize on that and give the museum a much more dynamic presence in this area.

What do you think of Boise as a place for art?

I look around Boise and I see opportunities for the museum everywhere. There's a lot that can be done, and the museum is in a great place right now to influence some of those things. And I know that in my first year, you'll see things here, you'll hear about things, that are different or new. And that's the message that we want to get out, that we're moving this institution forward and we're calling for more, larger, broader exposure and awareness.

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