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Director sees Harn Museum as resource for everyone

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Rebecca Martin Nagy
Director, Harn Museum of Art

Rebecca Nagy believes an art museum is more than a place to see beautiful paintings and sculptures; it’s also a great resource for research, teaching and learning.

“Teaching art history courses in a museum setting with real art is more enlightening and more fun than in a classroom,” said Nagy, director of the University of Florida’s Harn Museum of Art. “I fell in love with the chance to experience art up close and share my knowledge with students in the presence of original works of art. For students and faculty, seeing related works of art in person brings curriculum alive by providing context for classroom studies, especially an understanding of other cultures and historical eras.”

Nagy began her journey to UF as an undergraduate at Georgia Southern University studying studio art, art history and German. She went on to receive a doctorate in art history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. However, she discovered her true calling through her first job as an art educator at the Cleveland Museum of Art, where she combined her interests in art history and art education with her passion for museums.

It is with this conviction that Nagy determined to weave the work of the Harn more integrally into UF’s academic fabric by establishing a new position at the Harn — education curator of academic programs — dedicated to fostering the museum’s engagement with faculty and students across the university.

“I want all faculty, from the humanities to the physical sciences, to understand the museum is a resource that can be used in many disciplines, not just art,” she said. “Our goal is to provide life-changing experiences with works of art for every student.”

Nagy marks 10 years as director in July 2012. During her tenure, the museum has grown significantly, adding more than 3,100 works to the collecting areas of African, Asian, modern and contemporary art and photography. Additionally, she has overseen two expansions of the museum. The first was the 2005 addition of the Mary Ann Harn Cofrin Pavilion, which houses galleries for contemporary art, two classroom spaces, a café, and gardens. The second will be the 26,000-square-foot David A. Cofrin Asian Art Wing opening March 31, 2012.

The new Asian art wing will triple the space the museum has dedicated to Asian art, and will make it the leading university-based center for the study and preservation of Asian art in the Southeast.

Writer: Amelia Bell