Founded in 1875 as the Cape Ann Scientific and Literary Association, today the Cape Ann Museum is a complex institution. The primary campus in downtown Gloucester includes numerous galleries for the display of both permanent and special exhibitions, an auditorium,  Library & Archives,  children’s activity center, two sculpture gardens and 19th century captain’s house. In 2020 the Museum opened the Cape Ann Museum Green comprising three historic properties, four acres of open green space, and state-of-the art Collections Center with collections storage as well as exhibition and community programming space. 

When Oliver Barker arrived as director in 2019 he and the board initiated a strategic plan now in its fifth year. Much has been accomplished with a blockbuster Hopper exhibition and acquisition of 300 modern works. Major expansion plans for the downtown campus are under development. 

Overall, CAM is among many mid-level New England museums. It is primarily known for depth in the 19th century Gloucester seascape painter Fitz Henry Lane. Less known is that Cape Ann represents one of America’s oldest and richest art communities. 

Until recently, the museum lacked resources, vision and leadership to stake its claim as a major resource for American art history. A comprehensive overview is yet to be published. 

By contrast, Art in Narrow Streets: The First Thirty-three Years of the Provincetown Art Association, by the artist Ross Moffett, was published in 1964. That history starts in 1913 with the founding of the art association which is now a museum. The Cape Ann art community is older by more than a century and every bit as venerable yet its story remains largely unknown.

That changed this past summer with “Edward Hopper & Cape Ann: Illuminating an American Landscape” an exhibition of the critically acclaimed American artist during a turning point in his life and career when he and Josephine Nivison Hopper came to Cape Ann from 1923-1928.

For its twelve week duration, with an average of 3,000 visitors a day, the Hoppers put Gloucester on the American cultural map. 

Following that tsunami of media attention, however, Barker and the museum have gone silent and deep. When pressed, during a lively Zoom interview, Barker stated that it is premature to discuss plans which have been in progress since 2019. 

Winter, however, is when cultural institutions  start promoting their coming summer events. CAM’s relative marketing inactivity is counterintuitive. Is the museum losing its Hopper momentum? I asked what will lure visitors to the museum and Cape Ann next summer? 

The point is well taken that it entails years to develop a Hopper level project. One is in the works, guest-curated by Eliza Rathbone, featuring Milton Avery, Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko. Part of the tale to be told is why they and modernism decamped from Cape Ann. After which, the Rockport/ Rocky Neck school became ever more conservative. 

The downtown campus of the museum is a hodge-podge of five structures. There have been campaigns to meld them over the years with more work yet to be done. Barker would neither confirm nor deny expansion details stating that everything depends on funding. 

When and if a shutdown for renovation occurs programming will shift to the Cape Ann Museum Green with a 2,000 sq.ft. gallery and four acres for three-dimensional work. 

If this all comes together, Barker has the potential to catapult the CAM from a nice, mid-level, regional museum to a major one. The museum hovers on the cusp of evolving as a destination for research, publication and exhibition of major American artists, past and present. 

Oliver Barker In 2023 the Cape Ann Museum had 11 different exhibitions. That ranges from the Sargent House collection we did here as well as Jeff Weaver, The Hoppers, and Stuart Davis. We are continuing that path next year. There is no information on our website about what happens after Above the Fold (ends in March) simply because in three weeks we will be putting up a new website. 

Next April we will be opening an exhibition devoted to sculpture. Next summer we will have an exhibition devoted to women artists of Cape Ann. The shows will have different titles but that gives a sense of what’s coming up. 

Next fall we will have an exhibition devoted to the artist and teacher Umberto Romano. Like so many he came to Gloucester, was inspired, and in turn inspired a whole group of artists as a result.

We have great things in the works and are hoping to build on all the excitement of this year and the years leading up to 400 Plus. We were aware of engaging the indigenous history of this area now called Caper Ann. Next year we are building on that initiative with more indigenous programs as well. 

There’s a lot happening which is great. I want to emphasize that we have a fantastic team here. From Martha (Oaks) the chief curator who has such a wonderful vision and the whole group of colleagues that work alongside her. There is no end of stories that we are excited to tell. When we don’t have the answers we bring in the people who can help us. 

For our indigenous initiatives, for instance, we are working with Steve Peters who is advising on how we might best tell their story as well as other indigenous groups that have called Cape Ann home. We feel very buoyant. 

(Steven Peters is a citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. He was born in California and moved to Mashpee, Massachusetts when he was just a few months old. Steven considers himself very fortunate for his upbringing in Mashpee, as he grew up with people who shared similar cultural values. He curates the organization SmokeSygnals.)

Charles Giuliano Can we crunch some numbers? What’s the annual budget?

OB I’ll share with you that since I arrived in 2019 there hasn’t been a normal year. In 2018 our annual operating budget was $1.7 million. This year it was $4 million because we mounted the Hoppers exhibition. There isn’t one year that looks the same. When I arrived in 2019 we had the Winslow Homer exhibition. In 2020 we were closed for six months because of the pandemic. Very slowly we have been reopening. So there isn’t a normal year which I can share with you. 

CG Can you talk about this past year. What impact has the Hoppers exhibition had on the institution and Cape Ann?

OB When I arrived here everyone referred to the museum as a hidden gem. We had a wonderful local story (Hopper) and what we succeeded in doing was sharing that story with the nation. During the 12 week run of the Hopper exhibition we had 36,500 visitors. That’s 3,500 visitors each week. It’s safe to say that Cape Ann is now known. People appreciate us as a gem. We have an intimate sense of connection which we try to provide for all of our visitors. The whole arc of 2023 has been a wonderful way for the museum to establish itself as a unique place. 

The fall exhibition Above the Fold: The Photographers of the Gloucester Daily Times, 1973-2005 represents four decades of photographs taken on Cape Ann. I am very proud to talk to you and others about a whole range of subjects that the museum addresses. We’re in a great place of momentum and growth. What we are doing will build on that enthusiasm.

CG Is there a bottom line result of Hopper? Did you see a profit over costs? I know that the mandate of museums is not to make money but what’s your observation? 

OB Our fiscal year ends on December 31 and we are still in need of annual operating support to bring us a break even place for this year. I do think we will get there. 

We had 87 households and institutions that financially supported the exhibition. We had that many commitments before we opened the exhibition. I was invaluable to have that support particularly coming out of the pandemic when for six months we were closed, as all institutions were. It was a difficult time for this institution as it was for so many non profits. 

(On December 4 the New Times reported “The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum announced that it had laid off 10 employees in response to a challenging economic moment in the art world.

“It was the latest jolt within the museum industry, where a number of institutions across the country have cut staff and increased ticket prices to new heights. When the Guggenheim raised the price for adult admissions to $30 from $25 over the summer, it cited a lack of visitors and declining membership at a moment when expenses have skyrocketed because of inflation, increased labor costs and insurance, as well as rising shipping fees.

“The layoffs included two deputy directors, but also some longtime rank-and-file employees from the departments of visitor services and communications. The 10 jobs that were cut amounted to 2.5 percent of all employees.

“Like many institutions, rising costs and inflation have strained our budget,” Sara Fox, a museum spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Over the past months, we have taken proactive steps to reduce our deficit by raising admission fees and cutting costs wherever feasible. Regrettably, the museum will not have the ability to support our previous number of staff.”)

At the beginning of the year we had 1,600 membership households. Now we have 2,700. These are household that support us with $50 all the way to $25,000. It’s wonderful to know that the community values what we’re doing and wanting to partner with us. As we all know we will do great things if we do them together. 

CG I would like to return to your comment about seeing outside help. You stated it in regard to indigenous programming as well as guest curators of Hopper, Elliot Bostwick Davis, and looking forward Eliza Rathbone will curate an exhibition of Milton Avery, Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko. 

It begs the question. Now that you have 300 modern works (a promised gift from Janet and William Ellery “Wilber” James), and are in a better position to tell the story of Cape Ann as a major American art community, isn’t it time that you have an in-house curator dedicated to modern and contemporary art, as well as liaison to the living artists of Cape Ann? Shouldn’t major shows be curated by CAM museum staff and not farmed out? That’s a job for an emerging assistant curator. Nobody currently on staff fits that profile. 

You’ve reached the tipping point where you can no longer afford not to have an emerging contemporary curator. In conversations with artists they often comment on not being brought into your programming.

Now that you have off campus storage and exhibition space that kind of programming is cost effective and would have great impact for the community. That would entail a series of locally sourced group and solo exhibitions. It requires someone to know and work with the artists. One might start with a survey and census of professional artists living and working on Cape Ann. That evolves as a talking point for the artists and museum.

When are you going to hire a modern/ contemporary curator?

(The museum is awakening to the realization of a mandate to research and promote its chapter of American art history. If Cape Ann has attracted major artists in the past isn’t it plausible that the same factors prevail now and in the future?)

OB To step back from that question for a moment, to give you some context. We have a collections team with Martha Oaks as our chief curator. She is responsible for a team of five. In addition we have (archivists) Trenton Carls and Meagan Squibb. Leon Doucette, Assistant Curator, Karla Kaneb, Assistant Registrar)

We have a staff of 20 and a quite robust team responsible for managing our collections. 

Yes, we had Elliot Bostwick Davis as our guest curator for Edward Hopper. She was only able to do the work that she did because of the tremendous support provided by our team. Beyond bringing 64 works by the Hoppers to Cape Ann, where they launched their careers and lives together, one of the museum’s great accomplishments was how the Hopper exhibition was related to other displays throughout the museum. That was really Martha and Leon who took that on. It revealed the relevance of why we wanted to tell this story with a tangible connection. To me, as one who is always interested in learning more about American art, Martha and Leon connected to the relationship that the Hoppers had to the Stuart Davises. There were wonderful narratives that emphasize the Hopper’s influence made possible by the curatorial team we had here.

(As a critic, I felt a weak connection between the Hoppers and the Gloucester art community a century ago. The Davis catalogue focused on formal analysis of the development of Hopper’s watercolor technique, limited range of subject matter, and style. Davis did not provide a compelling view of the factors that brought a critical mass of artists to Gloucester at that time. There is no sense of the extent of the artist community and their social/ political/aesthetic concerns. There were socialists radiating from the Red House in East Gloucester. But Hopper appeared not to be involved with the politics then and later. Davis did not explore that issue. 

The Stuart Davis show, a thumbnail embedded in the Fitz Henry Lane galleries, was a non sequitur. Davis was a major artist deserving of equal footing with Hopper. The connection between the artists was less than palpable. Let’s hope that the museum gives Davis the full monty at another time.)

OB In an ideal world I would love to have more staff. I do want to address one thing that you said. We have done a really wonderful job of celebrating contemporary practitioners. I was speaking with someone recently of putting together a list of people over the past couple of years we’ve engaged with. When we reopened during the pandemic we gave everyone in this community an artistic voice with our portraits initiative. We had 640 participants including practicing artists and non artists. People in the community were invited to create a portrait which we displayed in our galleries. 

Looking at this past year there was an exhibition of Jeff Weaver’s work. He’s a very prominent practitioner here in this community. This summer we had 14 photographers who participated in a Quarry Art exhibit (in the annex building). The museum had worked with them over the past year to document the quarries of Cape Ann to show what they look like today. 

The Above the Fold show which opens tonight features 13 contemporary photographers who are still with us and will join us tonight. The museum has made some great commitments to showing more contemporary art. Yes, over time, we would love to hire additional curatorial staff. It’s very much contingent on managing our budget. 

If there is anyone out there who would endow a position we would love to hear from them. There is certainly that need but I want to underscore here that some of the exhibitions for next year, and the new campus, represents a commitment to showing more contemporary art.

In the summer of 2021 we featured the work of Dorothy Kerper Monnelly. (Essex sculptor Brad Story and Ipswich photographer Dorothy Kerper Monnelly.  The exhibition was  held at the Janet & William Ellery James Center at the Cape Ann Green.) You may not have seen our show this season of Stephanie Bannister a laser and sound installation. She worked with many of the immigrants of Cape Ann. It was an amazing installation that entailed the entire space at Cape Ann Green.

I hope that gives you a sense of some of the contemporary things that the museum is doing. 

CG Museums are mandated to show what’s in their collections. Previously you lacked the significant mass of modern and contemporary work to make that point. That’s now changed with 300 modern works, a promised gift from Janet and William Ellery “Wilber” James. You now have the works to tell the story of Cape Ann as a major artist community. Generally an acquisition of that depth attracts others. The norm for museums is to back up a major collection with a dedicated curator.

The time has come for Cape Ann to identify as a major chapter in American art history and not just a footnote. The support of the collectors necessitates a curator dedicated to developing and telling that story. Other than a few artists- John Sloan, Marsden Hartley, Stuart Davis, the Hoppers, Aaron Siskind, Barnett Newman, Milton Avery, Adolph Gottlieb, Mark Rothko, Hans Hoffmann- beyond scholars of their work, the role of Gloucester and modernism is not widely known. The upcoming show of Avery, Gottlieb and Rothko, made possible by the expanded collection, will change the narrative. It promises to recalibrate the perception of the museum and the arts of Cape Ann. You say that the current curatorial staff is adequate but I don’t agree. They are generalists and skilled administrators but not specialists. A dedicated modernist assistant curator is a mandate. It has the potential to move the museum from a “hidden gem” to a player and destination for American art at the highest level.  

OB That’s something that the museum is very conscious of. It’s part of the next five year strategic plan. This organization was founded in 1875 as Cape Ann Scientific and Literary Association. We didn’t even start to acquire a collection until the 1920s. Josephine Nivison Hopper came here in 1926 and signed our guest book. She came and visited this very house. The exciting story is how the museum has morphed over the years and we are now a collecting institution. We have the best collection of Fitz Henry Lane in a public institution. The presence of that collection allowed us to change the museum’s name. It has also legitimized our loan requests.

With Hopper, which has never happened before, we partnered with the Whitney Museum, a major national museum. They did and lent us 27 works, then 27 other museums did as well. That enabled us to bring that exhibition about. That’s a really wonderful story and we were able to do that because over the years museums have many priorities. Over the past five years it was to create a facility where we could possible store the existing collection. I am excited that we have a state of the art facility in the James Center. As you point out, we have attracted a very significant gift of Cape Ann art. Their intention and hope is that their generosity will inspire others. 

There is a wonderful story about Cape Ann as the place that inspired so much of American art. We have holes in our collection that we would love to fill. Hopefully there are individuals with great works willing to give to us that we may display them. There is an interesting potential that exists because we now have a state of the art storage facility.

Marsden Hartley's Dogtown painting among 300 modern works gifted to CAM. Courtesy photo

Oliver Barker has moved the needle. Giuliano photo

An indigenous Wetu erected 2023 on Cape Ann Museum Green

The dense downtown complex of five structures is slated for renovation

Leading Gloucester artist Jeff Weaver was shown in 2023

Work by Weaver

The 2023 Hopper show put the museum on the map

The humble dwellings that Hopper painted have become gentrified. Courtesy photo

Intended gift Frederick Mulhaupt. CAM

Jane Petersen among unknown women artists to be shown at CAM

Theresa Bernstein self portrait. CAM

Stuart Davis lived in Gloucester for many years

CG You’re making my argument. Now that you have a significant collection you need a dedicated modernist curator to research the collection and network with other collectors in order to enhance the collection. That’s the role of specialists on museum staffs. 

OB I’m not trying to dodge the argument. I agree. What I’m trying to do is draw your attention to the fact that there are many different priorities. Once the board agrees that it’s a priority, my job is to assure that there is an adequate annual budget to afford additional staff. 

This is something you may not be aware of but the museum has invested in new education initiatives. We added a staff member last year. We now have a program that aligns with the Massachusetts curriculum. We bring students K through 12 into the museum or we bring a class to them. There’s a point of connection that supports the work that they’re doing. This past year we had connections with all the 2nd 3rd and eight grade classes in all of Cape Ann. In the spring we showed that work in our gallery. That’s contemporary art and we are very responsive to that next generation of potential artists. We had work from over 600 students here at the museum in one of our galleries. It wasn’t relegated to a corridor. These were students invited to view Hopper and interpret it in their own way. They made wonderful stained glass windows including some that were on view during the Hopper show itself. 

We are all advocating for the same thing; a vibrant institution. We are making strategic moves at present to engage our community. We are hopeful that we will have more curatorial staff to further interpret the art of Cape Ann.

CG It’s wonderful that you’re working with school children. My concern, however, is with the artists of the present. As I am sure you are aware there is a vibrant and growing community of practitioners on Cape Ann in all of the arts- performance, theatre, literature, dance and the fine arts. What leadership role is the museum taking to address this developing professional community?

OB I respectfully disagree. Even tonight we have an event called First Friday. We’ve been doing this for the past year and a half and it brings in different audiences. We have had performances and musicians. The museum has provided a platform for them to perform. We can differ but I do believe the museum is very committed to supporting contemporary artists. This is just one way that we do that on a very regular basis. 

CG What are the expectations of the James family in entrusting the museum with this work? What is the strategy to activate that collection?

OB One of the great strengths of the James collection is its breadth. We were able to select 35 works that created a great narrative around the Hoppers. If you go into that gallery you can see a work by Robert Henri who was a teacher to Edward and Jo Hopper. The James collection allowed us to show similar artists who were working on Cape Ann at the same time then as well as later.  There is no end of ways that we can explore and interpret those collections. 

In years past the James’ were generous in lending works from the collection. So this is not the first time that we have been amplifying our own holdings by emphasizing their works. They have an expectation, and so does the museum, that over time we are going to actively showcase the collection and reinterpret our existing displays on a regular basis. 

CG Can we discuss guest curator Eliza Rathbone and plans for her exhibition?

OB We’ve been working with Eliza since 2021. As I am sure you are aware loan exhibitions of that nature take a long time to develop. We approached Eliza as the curator emerita of the Phillips Collection. She’s done some wonderful exhibitions featuring all three artists. We were delighted that she was available and interested in developing this concept with the museum. Eliza and Martha Oaks are working closely on developing that exhibition. The three artist’s estates have agreed to work with us which is important.

CG Will it focus on works they created in Gloucester? 

OB From the 1930s and 1940s. They were great friends in New York and came here for some of those summers. Eliza will argue that what they did on Cape Ann greatly informed their later work. The concept here is Avery, Gottlieb and Rothko, Cape Ann and Beyond. It’s early work that they made here together and later work that shows great connections to Cape Ann. It will show the whole spectrum of their careers. 

CG I’m surprised that the project does not include Barnett Newman, Hans Hofmann or Aaron Siskind who were also in Gloucester at that time. 

OB Curatorially,  the decision was made to focus on these three. Our colleagues at the Peabody Essex Museum did a great job of highlighting Hofmann just a few years ago. We had a Hofmann on Cape Ann lecture here as well. We just can’t do it all at once.  The friendship between those three artists was particularly strong. 

(Hans Hofmann: The Nature of Abstraction was organized by University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. It was on view at P.E.M. September 21, 2019 to January 5, 2020)

CG It’s a remarkable story that deserves national attention. Do you think that people will begin to view Cape Ann differently?

OB I think they are already and we hope that this upcoming exhibition will underscore that.

CG Can we discuss plans for buildout, renovation and expansion? In terms of what I have reported your PR people have told me that I made mistakes. Can you tell me what they were?

OB It’s been awhile since I read the piece but I’ll share with you what we have planned for our downtown campus. The museum is in a quiet phase during which we hope to make renovations. 

CG Isn’t the plan to fill in the courtyard to the right of the entrance and how would that additional space be used? 

OB We’re not at liberty to share any of those details as yet. We are very much in the planning phase. 

CG Is it on the table?

OB Yes, we are considering all options. You know the downtown campus is made up of five separate structures of varying ages. In 2014 the museum made renovations of our entrance spaces. It provided a new access to the visiting public which we have benefited from. It is our hope, and as always contingent on funding, that we might be able to continue that work in the rest of our buildings. 

CG Coming out of the Hopper momentum it seems odd that you are stalling on launching a capital campaign for renovation. Striking while the iron is hot it would seem inevitable that one follows the other. The museum appears to have reverted to a business as usual mode with a trough of marketing and messaging following a moment when the museum for the first time achieved national recognition. 

OB That’s not the case and we are in the quiet phase of our campaign. That’s been going on for quite some time and Hopper was a very important step in our strategy to drive momentum around the museum. I’m sorry that I can’t share with you more detail. It would be unfortunate for me to articulate anything further regarding our building project right now because we’re just not ready. Having worked for the past five years on the new campus and the delivery of the Hopper show and other initiatives I’m very conscious of not wanting to jeopardize the momentum that we have by revealing plans that are now very much in process. 

CG How do you keep the momentum front loaded? You had phenomenal attendance and media attention for Hopper. You now discuss going into a quiet phase. That seems counterintuitive. You have to chum the waters and maintain interest. It was that very silence that prompted me to explore and report on a lack of transparency. 

There has been no information about programming after the current exhibition Above the Fold. What is the strategy to bring visitors back next summer and leading into an anniversary year? Is it appropriate to submarine your constituents by running silent and deep?

OB That’s your opinion. As someone who has worked for museums for the past three decades I am familiar with the cadence that we all operate under. It’s not unusual for museums to not publicize projects that are coming up beyond a year in advance. If you look at any of the websites in Massachusetts there are probably scant details about what they are doing in 2025 and 2026. As an institution we are committed to build momentum. The museum has been in the quiet phase of leadership for this campaign since 2019. This is not just something new that we are contemplating. It’s something very real and present. Obviously, because of the crisis we went through globally, there was a moment of pause. We were focused on seeing that our annual operations were a success. There’s a real strategic priority to insure momentum around the museum. Hopper was an important part of that. 

At some point during the next year we would be delighted to share more details with you about that momentum and what it represents. It’s not best for the museum to share plans that are still just plans.

CG What’s going to bring visitors to the museum next summer? 

OB They are going to see two wonderful exhibitions. One at the Cape Ann Museum Green and another at our downtown campus. We have a whole range of celebrations. There’s a Brazilian community day. There are plenty of things we are doing. It’s not realistic to mount an Edward Hopper type exhibition every year. We are just hearing back from our Chamber of Commerce colleagues and a survey measuring the impact of our exhibition. To measure the impact of bringing all those people to Cape Ann for the exhibition had on their businesses. Anecdotally, many have shared what a tremendous impact it had. As we initiate planning we are excited about working with our business partners. Hopefully, we can build that into our projections for future years. 

CG Many feel that the old Gloucester is gone. There is a social and economic shift that is seen all over Cape Ann with condo developments. The indigenous fishing communities of Italians and Portuguese have been flipped and bought out. Clearly, there’s a new Gloucester with the strong presence of one-percenters. That’s a lot of money coming into the community as well as additional tax revenue. 

Significantly, the luxury hotel Beauport was developed on a prime lot overlooking the harbor. There were efforts to designate it as public space for the benefit of all citizens. Instead it is the private view and beach for wealthy tourists. The character of working class housing in The Fort and Portuguese Hill, which Hopper depicted, has been altered. The exterior remains the same while interiors have been gutted and gentrified. 

Given that the port has succumbed to decline and decay some regard this revenue influx as salvation for a cash-strapped city and economy. Last summer there were traffic jams and nowhere to park as well as mobbed restaurants. From a Chamber of Commerce point of view this is a good thing. 

How does this economic shift impact the museum in terms of befriending and bringing in the nouveau riche? There is new money and more all the time. How do you make the arts palpable to Gloucester’s newest residents? Are there new board members? How does the new money fit with old Cape Ann?

OB I am interested in the history of this unique place. We do that obviously with exhibitions like Edward Hopper. But also by turning our attention to community-centric displays like Above the Fold which opens tonight. 

We have an active board of 24 members. Some have been invested in the museum for decades. Next week we will be celebrating a wonderful individual who has served for 50 years on the board. 

The important thing is that, yes, the fishing industry is not what it used to be. We had a wonderful exhibition devoted to family fishing vessels. They shared with us items from their own homes. We are committed to tell all the stories and we want to know what’s happening here now. There are great organizations here now  using the ocean for their research. We are excited to have their narrative also reflected in the museum. 

(Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute addresses critical challenges facing our oceans, human health and the environment through innovative scientific research and education.  By bringing world-class science and transformative workforce development to Gloucester’s historic waterfront, GMGI is catalyzing the regional economy.)

We continue to navigate telling the colonial history here; that very short history of 400 years. But also the 12,500 years before that when indigenous people were here and are still here today. So it is how we tell their story, the colonial story and the changing story of what’s here. 

It’s an ever changing story that we have and are committed to telling. We don’t pretend to have all the answers but are excited to have that opportunity. 

CG Yes, but you’re not answering my question about making new money a part of the fiscal strategy for the museum moving forward. 

OB We extend an open invitation for anyone to come to the museum. We work actively with new households that come to Cape Ann. We value the people who are already here. During the pandemic we established a partnership with The Grace Center for Social Learning and Understanding, providing a meal every two weeks and support people who use that facility to be food and clothing secure. There’s a real commitment to letting people know that this is a relevant institution.

CG I’m not hearing any strategy to invite and include the new money condo community.

OB Under my tenure we established levels of membership here at the museum. You can join as a $50 member, Sustainer $250 and Benefactor $500, or you can join as a director’s level member at $10,000 or $25,000.

We are offering opportunities to members who fit the whole spectrum of people who live here on Cape Ann. 

CG Are you getting responses regarding upper level memberships?

OB Yes. If you come to the museum today we honor those individuals who have donated $10,000 and $25,000 (with their names on the wall). 

CG Do you get around to press the flesh? 

OB In what sense?

CG Do you go after the money? Are there social strategies to get to know these people? That’s what museum directors do. 

OB Yes. We invite people to special openings for people who support us at $1,000 and above. Tomorrow we have an opening for people generally. I am constantly in the galleries as I love the stories of this place. I love meeting people who share my passion. I’m always present at these events as I will be tonight to see Above the Fold. It’s an open invitation and free of charge. So, yes, I’m always in the business of meeting people, hearing their ideas and getting feedback to improve the museum. 

CG Do you live in Annisquam?

OB No I don’t. For the past decade I’ve lived in Wenham. As you know I worked for a number of years at the Museum of Fine Arts and when I moved back from Australia, Wenham became home. 

(Prior to joining the CAM Barker served as Manager, Foundation, Government and International Relations for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, He was born and educated in Melbourne, Australia. He is a cultural management professional with 20 years of experience within global visual arts arenas. Prior to joining the MFA, he worked as Curator & Projects Director for the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. He began his career as the Director of Education & Visitor Services at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy, where he lived for nearly a decade. Barker holds a master’s degree in Arts and Cultural Management from the University of Melbourne and an Honors Degree in Fine Arts, Painting and Printmaking from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), in Melbourne, Australia.)

CG I thought your wife was from Annisquam. 

OB She’s from Chicago. My in-laws have moved back and now live in Annisquam. I’m there frequently but it’s not my home. 

CG Speaking of Annisquam that would seem a likely topic for an exhibition considering the artists who lived there; Winslow Homer, Maxfeld Parrish, N. C. Wyeth, students of William Morris Hunt (they painted apple blossoms) Cecelia Beaux,  Margaret Fitzhugh Browne, Anna Hyatt Huntington. I wasn’t aware of that until I started research for the book with my sister Annisquam: Pip and Me Coming of Age

OB It was one of the original artist colonies and there is a lot of wonderful material. Some of those artists are going to be featured next year in our Cape Ann Women exhibition. 

CG Could you talk a bit about the sculpture exhibition.

OB Both of those shows- Cape Ann Women and Cape Ann Sculptors- are being curated by Martha Oaks. In recent years the museum has made an effort to collect three-dimensional works of art. Members of the community have been very generous in gifting us work. This is an opportunity to showcase all of those recent acquisitions. This will range from Paul Manship and Walker Hancock to Anna Hyatt Huntington. There are some interesting new artists featured in that exhibition. 

CG When do you anticipate the museum shutting down for renovation and for how long? Will there be a shift of programming to the museum’s satellite campus? 

OB To be perfectly honest, I’m going to be very candid with you, we are not exactly sure when, as it’s contingent on fundraising. If we were to move ahead, yes, there would be a period of temporary closure at the downtown campus. What’s really exciting and important to know is that when the museum went through renovation in 2014 we didn’t have the Cape Ann Museum Green. When and if we close down we will fully activate and have a very active program during any time of temporary closure. 

CG Beyond contingency during renovation to what extent may the Museum Green be regarded as a resource for contemporary programming? 

OB Yes. I mentioned exhibitions we had there earlier this year. That wonderful space is a white box with great possibilities.

CG Are you willing to put resources into a significant program there?

OB Yes. We have 2,000 sq. feet of exhibition space, as well as four acres, so how we use that is important. We had a memorial in 2021 for Covid victims here in Gloucester. There were three separate memorials that activated that campus. We will see many more things. We have a project there next year looking at the history of slavery on Cape Ann. We’re working with five artists of color who, over a series of years, in partnership with the Manship Artists Residency, are going to present wonderful work outside on that campus. 

CG A great advantage compared to downtown is adequate parking. If you staff and program the green it’s accessible and people will come. 

OB I’ve been candid with you and shared a lot of details and vision. If you need further clarity you know where we are. If you have questions reach out as we are sincere about having an open dialogue. 

CG It’s been lively and fun and I’m hoping this is the start of a wonderful friendship. 

OB I’m sure it is and keep in touch.