CAMs new director has big plans for the Grand Center museum. But, her first mission is to learn more about her new hometown and its people.
Lisa Melandri’s passion for art is hard to miss. It permeates her discussions of history, architecture, people and, of course, her new position as director of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.
Known for supporting innovative exhibits like Marco Brambilla’s “The Dark Lining” and Mickalene Thomas’ “Origin of the Universe,” Melandri not only brings fresh ideas to CAM, but she also brings her invaluable experience as Deputy Director for Exhibitions and Programming with the Santa Monica Museum of Art (SMMoA). Admittedly intrigued by CAM since she first heard of its existence, Melandri has made it her mission to foster its growth and connection to the city’s art scene.
ALIVE: What possibilities do you see for CAM’s future?
Lisa Melandri: One of the first things you think as a person coming in with fresh eyes is: How do we best utilize this space? I mean for the artists: How can they have the best possibility to do the work that they do? I mean for the audience: What do they feel when they walk in the door? A lot of it really has to do with keeping your feet on the ground and assessing all of the great work that has been done, what happens next and what can make it even greater.
ALIVE: What excites you most about St. Louis?
LM: The very first thing that struck me was how institutions are free. When you have a city with free institutions, you have a civically engaged city that cares about culture. You realize that arts and culture are important. I think that’s truly thrilling.
ALIVE: What have you noticed about art and architecture in St. Louis so far?
LM: You have a sense of signature contemporary architecture here, and that’s important and exciting. I was really charmed by the older architecture— that interesting moment where you have a little Victorian flourish, but then there’s some prairie. It’s not unfamiliar to my days living in Philadelphia or Boston, but it has its own flavor.
ALIVE: What can your experience with extremely innovative and explorative shows bring to CAM?
LM: My curatorial view is sort of like my view on architecture. It’s very much about what’s cuttingedge and contemporary. But, I also like a long historical view. I like that idea of going back and forth a little bit. It’s important to ask: What does CAM bring to the audience that’s different than what they’re getting somewhere else?
ALIVE: How do you plan to bring new audiences to CAM in the future?
LM: The major concern is creating different points of entry. If you can get a group of people in the building and even just one of them begins to look around and say, “I’m going to come back,” then you can cultivate that audience member into someone who’s a repeat visitor or someone who tells [his or her] friends about the museum. You want scholarly lectures, but you also want events like happy hours—and everything in between.
ALIVE: What do you think connects a city’s people to an individual museum?
LM: People connect with their total visitor experience— how welcomed they feel and the intimacy of the experience. The museum is like a living room. It should never be an aloof or an intimidating experience. As a visitor, I should be made to feel that if I don’t get what I’m looking at, someone is able to explain it to me. Those are the things people fall in love with.
Lisa Melandri, incoming director of CAM
Photo credit: Christopher Gibbons