UVM Hires Sonja Lunde as New Director of the Fleming Museum of Art | Arts News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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UVM Hires Sonja Lunde as New Director of the Fleming Museum of Art


Published October 21, 2022 at 4:02 p.m.
Updated October 26, 2022 at 10:09 a.m.

  • Courtesy of UVM
  • Sonja Lunde
It's been more than 20 years since Sonja Lunde lived and worked in Vermont. But her relationship to the University of Vermont's Fleming Museum of Art, where she started on October 17 as the new director, dates back even further.

Lunde, 46, who was born and raised in the Rutland County town of Chittenden, had a grandfather known as Nonno — Italian for "grandpa" — who was a self-taught hobbyist photographer.

“Way before anyone was bringing their film to the Fotomat to develop," Lunde recalled, "he had a darkroom in his basement in Barre.”

When Nonno enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II, she said, he was recruited as an official military photographer in the Pacific. His work was later featured in an exhibit of Vermont photographers at the Fleming sometime in the 1940s.

Naturally, digging into the Fleming's art collection to learn more about her grandfather's photographs won't be Lunde's top priority as the museum's first new director in two decades. She takes over from Janie Cohen, who retired after more than 30 years at the museum. Cohen's tenure — first as chief curator beginning in 1991, then as director beginning in 2002 — brought the Fleming national acclaim, not just among its academic peers but among larger and better-known institutions.
Lunde enters her leadership role as someone rooted in the operational management of such institutions, including 15 years of experience working at art museums, most recently at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts at the University of Utah. With a demonstrated commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion work — Lunde served as vice president of the Western Museums Association Board, where she helped lead its DEI strategy task force — she said she's excited to continue that work at UVM.

"There’s a real sea change happening in museums, not just art museums but all museums,” she said.

Specifically, Lunde was referring to the Fleming Reimagined, a campaign  launched by her predecessor, which aims to, in Lunde's words, “decenter the museum’s authority and be more outward-facing and engaged with the community.”

The Fleming Reimagined is emblematic of a broader effort by museums nationally to acknowledge and rectify their colonial and often exploitative pasts and to become more relevant, responsive to and inclusive of Indigenous people and other communities of color.

As for what will be her biggest challenges in her new position, Lunde was reluctant to speculate, beyond the obvious hurdles that all small museums face, including small staffs and limited resources. As Lunde pointed out, she's still meeting her colleagues and employees and learning her way around campus.

“I can say, I don’t see anything on fire," she added. "So that’s a good thing.”

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