Moving from Virginia to Northwest Montana can be a shock to the system any time of the year, but as the Hockaday Museum of Art’s new director found out, starting during the coldest week of the winter is downright shocking.
Elizabeth Moss, who prefers to be called Liz, realized just how chilly the Flathead could get after she drove for five days to get here for her first day of work on Dec. 1.
“It’s so cold,” Moss said last week in the comfort of her new office. “That first week was tough on me.”
Even though she was born and raised in New Jersey, Moss said she lived in Virginia long enough to become accustomed to mild winters – a considerable difference from the negative 12 degree mornings Kalispell experienced during the cold snap at the beginning of December.
But the initial freeze has been worth it for Moss, who is taking the helm at the Hockaday after the museum’s long search to fill the position. Previous director Lucy Smith said she was only a bridge between directors since July 2008, and will resume development work for the museum.
Moss comes to Montana after years of working in the art scene in Virginia. Her most recent position was in Waynesboro, where she held the program and exhibition director position for the Artisans Center of Virginia.
However, the Artisans Center lost state and local funding during the tumultuous recession, and Moss expanded her job search to a national level. The Hockaday was especially attractive, she said, because it appealed to her senses as a curator as well as an administrator. The job was made available through a stimulus grant from the Montana Arts Council.
“This is one of the few opportunities that was listed as an executive director and a curator,” Moss said.
With a Master’s degree in arts administration from Golden Gate University and years of experience at various art institutions, Moss is up to the task of leading the Hockaday from the director’s chair. But she is also adept at understanding the artist’s point of view, having been trained as a painter.
“Both sides of my brain work, luckily,” Moss said.
One of her previous career highlights included preparing young artists for the business side of the art world. This meant teaching them how to approach a museum, marketing their work and how to design and hang an exhibit. This work provided a public service, Moss said, because the community could experience more art and the artists became more adept at marketing their careers.
As for the Hockaday, Moss acknowledged that the future expansion is on everyone’s radar. She hopes that the museum will be able to begin work by the summer, but those plans are still tentative.
One program Moss will help develop is the “Museum on the Move” project, which will bring the educational programs to Whitefish and possibly provide the foundation for more art education funding. She also said she was excited about a new exhibit by artist Jane Stanfel whose work, “The Ghost Ranches of Montana,” includes several ranches from the Flathead. The exhibit debuts in February.
The Hockaday will be closed for the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and Moss plans on using that down time to explore the Flathead’s art community. She hopes to visit art studios and attend shows to get a feel for her new surroundings.
As for the weather, Moss said she is slowly getting used to it. The upside has been learning the ins and outs of winter driving in Montana and the postcard-like visage the snow gives to Bigfork, where she is currently staying.
“I’m like a kid in the snow,” Moss said.
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