- Courtesy of UVM
- Sonja Lunde
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.
"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.”