An interview with Robbin Zella, Director of the Housatonic Museum of Art
By Laura Roberts
For 21 years, Housatonic Museum of Art director Robbin Zella has collected and managed objects and materials of cultural, aesthetic and historical importance, preserving them, researching them and presenting them to our students, our faculty and the community for our collective education and enjoyment.
In that time, 98 exhibitions have graced the Burt Chernow Galleries and its surrounding spaces. Exhibitions of world-renowned artists such as Ansel Adams, Sol LeWitt, Rembrandt, Chuck Close, Joe Zucker, Steve McCurry, and Jenny Holzer have graced the galleries, to name a few. Works of local artists are also regularly featured in shows, drawing from towns throughout Connecticut and into New York, as well as annual student and faculty shows.
“There are so many memorable shows,” said Zella. “One of the most popular shows was Ansel Adams Classic Images, a special exhibit on loan from SNET and SBC Communications Inc. We had great programming thanks to robust corporate support which enabled us to build a website and to create the initial school outreach program which evolved into our current Student Docent Program. It was so popular that we had to extend an extra few weeks.”
In addition to featuring artwork in exhibits and throughout the college campus, HMA partners with other organizations to tell our regional, and national, story. One example is a collaboration with the work of the Mary & Eliza Freeman Center for History and Community, whereby the story and artifacts of Bridgeport’s Little Liberia are on display outside the galleries, and the current exhibition, “The Hypogean Tip” by Brooklyn artist Rachel Owens, explores the subject in through innovative glass sculptures.
“The museum is really a place for cross-curriculum learning,” said Zella. “You can come to the galleries to explore subjects such as mythology, literature, music, geography and the like in a contemplative environment.”
Behind the scenes, Zella has skillfully improved the management of the museum’s vast collection. She redesigned the collection storage areas so that artwork could be more safely stored, created a museum preparation room, expanded the storage area for the huge paper collection, and conducts ongoing collections conservation, maintaining and restoring artworks.
“The collection is growing, and we’re creating new opportunities to showcase it. In the atrium we’ll be showing works not seen before, as well as newly donated works. We recently received a substantial gift of images by Walter Iooss Jr., an American photographer best known for his award-winning images of sports' greatest athletes, including Michael Jordan, Kelly Slater, Tiger Woods, and Muhammad Ali. We’re also creating an installation of feminist art, following a current national initiative among museums,” said Zella.
The museum fundraises to support all of these activities, as well as its popular Student Docent program, which teaches Bridgeport students to become “experts” about iconic buildings in Downtown Bridgeport and present their knowledge to their classmates during guided tours. To date the Program has served over 5,000 students in 17 Bridgeport schools.
Donations play a vital role in making the artwork of the Housatonic Museum of Art accessible, providing everyone in our community, and our region, with an opportunity to learn from original objects. To make a gift to the museum, visit https://museum.housatonic.edu/about/donations or contact Robbin Zella, or call 203-332-5052.