Jan. 27, 2005
By Susan Green
If you ask Paul Legris what he thinks about museums, he points out that they are no longer traditional places of novel objects in cases with tombstone labels. They are places full of rich contextualization and storytelling.
By his own admission, Legris is a storyteller. For the interim John B. and Dareth A. Gerlach Director of the Kennedy Museum of Art, stories, not objects or artifacts, are what makes exhibits engaging and thrilling.
"I like to get beyond the aesthetics of an object by developing engaging interpretation," he says. "And creating full interactive experiences with information that allows the visitor easy access from one point of interest in the story to the next."
Legris' entry into the museum world happened by chance. A native of Canada, he and his wife moved to Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, where she taught elementary school, in the late 1980s.
"There was a beautiful museum there, the Queen Charlotte Islands Museum and they had a fantastic collection of Pacific Northwest art," Legris says. "I did a bit of volunteer work, including writing a successful grant and developing interpretive design." Two years later that led to a job in the Province of New Brunswick, where he worked for one of the oldest museums in Canada. "I worked with a wonderful designer who became my mentor," he says. "We did amazing things there, it was fabulous."
Since then Legris has worked for the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C., the Anniston Museum of Natural History in Anniston, Ala., and the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, Ariz. And for the past two years he's been an interpretive consultant for the National Park Service, supervising the development of two major exhibitions in Flagstaff, "Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument" and "Wupatki National Monument."
Legris has big plans for the Kennedy Museum of Art, and with his extensive experience, he knows what's required for the museum to compete with other cultural institutions. He wants to increase visitation and continue moving the Kennedy beyond its local and regional reputation to national and international prominence.
"We have a fantastic relationship with the university, the county and the state," Legris says. "And our curator, Jennifer McLerran, has been successful in extending our mission nationally, particularly in the southwest, where most of our collection comes from."
His plans for expansion go beyond reputation to include physical space. Housed in historic and spectacular Lin Hall, the museum is rapidly outgrowing its usable space. Legris enthusiastically reveals plans to renovate the second floor from the grand staircase to the area above the galleries on the first floor.
"We plan to create a new multipurpose education facility, increase space for exhibits, lectures and storage," Legris says. "The new facility would be clean and fresh, increasing our square footage significantly. There also would be a library for our rare and valuable book collection."
As Legris talks about telling the museum's story, his enthusiasm is contagious.
"It's exciting to be here," he says. "We are poised to transform the Kennedy into a center for new cultural ideas."
And that's definitely a story he can tell.
Susan Green is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.