Mannes forges connections between community and art

Ruth+Mannes%2C+the+new+Executive+Director+of+MoCA.

Photo courtesy of Kerry Long

Ruth Mannes, the new Executive Director of MoCA.

Lea Rivel '22, Staff Writer

Between her 20-year career in publishing, her last job as Executive Managing Editor at HarperCollins, taking a break from publishing to raise her family, being actively involved in the Westport PTA and collecting contemporary art for over 23 years, it is evident that Ruth Mannes cares greatly about both the arts and the people around her. 

As the new Executive Director of Westport’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Mannes is connecting her love for art to her passion for bringing communities together. Mannes was named Executive Director on Feb. 21. This change in leadership comes a few months after the museum underwent a change in its location and name in September 2019. 

Mannes’s job at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) Westport is to manage the budget, a staff of 12 people and the museum as a whole. She is also responsible for bringing in national artists and exhibitions, helping run the Concert Series and the Heida Foundation music series and overseeing the programming of the Academy, the Educational Department of the museum. She brings a fresh perspective and outlook to the museum while bringing in new, dynamic styles for the public to see. 

“My leadership is very much about collaboration and creating a collegial, open-minded, and inclusive environment, not just for the staff but for the entire community,” Mannes said. 

Especially with the new location for the museum being triple the size of its old space, Mannes foresees a lot of potential growth for the museum. She hopes that this growth will attract Westport citizens of all ages and people from other towns as well. 

“I am looking forward to bringing in amazing shows (both in the visual arts and the performing arts) and to forge new connections with the community for all of Fairfield County,” Mannes said.

Because of the museum’s closing for the Coronavirus, the preview and opening for the expected Helmut Lang exhibit could not take place, but she and her staff look forward to having this and their General Opening as soon as possible. In light of recent changes in both the location and leadership of the museum and the state of the world and its effect on Westport, Mannes maintains a positive attitude, which will surely be beneficial to the Westport community and success of the museum. 

“My most recent one in this current political and health/Coronavirus moment is ‘Never let a crisis go to waste,’” she said. “I’m someone who likes to look a problem straight in the eye and do all that is possible to calmly and methodically bring about positive change.”

Mannes is, of course, a big fan of art herself, and hopes to share that passion with the people around her through inclusive environments and immersive exhibitions. A goal of hers through the exhibitions she brings to the museum is to have a profound impact on viewers. She cares not just about the aesthetic aspect of art, but also about tying in current events and other topics to the visuals. 

“We are looking forward to an exciting group show that will install in September called ‘World Peace’ (a subversive political show with mixed media work, sculpture, video installation, paintings, work on paper and photography),” she said. “It will be an extremely dynamic show that will open before the 2020 Elections, so it’s timely as well.”

Being the new Executive Director of MoCA, Mannes especially hopes to change the relationship between students and their viewership of art. She acknowledges the museum’s need for more of the youth population to view the exhibits on display and take advantage of the various activities MoCA offers. 

“We hope to run robust internship programs and to engage the young adults in this area to become members and frequent this location to not only view art, but to enjoy the Cafe and Lounge here and have places to meet outside of Starbucks,” she said. “If we show amazing art, I know students will come to enjoy it, we just need that buzz and involvement from the Staples community!”

We hope to run robust internship programs and to engage the young adults in this area to become members and frequent this location to not only view art, but to enjoy the Cafe and Lounge here and have places to meet outside of Starbucks.”

— Ruth Mannes, Executive Director of Westport’s Museum of Contemporary Art

To connect the community to the museum in meaningful ways, Mannes has many plans to accomplish in her new position and hopes to make people aware of all the things available besides art exhibitions alone. There will be Family Days, Previews and Openings, Tours and Lectures, the Academy and eventually a Cafe and Bookstore. 

“My sincere hope and mission is to have MoCA Westport viewed as a beacon in this area for amazing art for both visual and performing arts,” she said, “and to see us as a destination for all ages to come and experience.”