The National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Spa State Park hosts 14,000 visitors annually and houses several exhibition spaces, dance and yoga studios, and a 45-seat theater. The facility crackles with life and history, beginning with a grand entry foyer adorned with dynamic dance photos and lined with the names of Hall of Fame members, the greats in all dance disciplines.
Current exhibits include Gender Neutral, a groundbreaking display of the longstanding history of nontraditional gender roles in dance. It brings visitors from the origins of gender neutrality in dance in the 1700s through current work by troupes such as the all-male comic ballet company Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Dancers in Film, a multimedia permanent exhibit celebrating the magic of dance in movies, features Lifetime Achievement Award winners Ann-Margret, John Travolta, and Chita Rivera.
The Hall of Fame, dedicated to benefactors Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, welcomes two new members annually. Patrons can read about the accomplishments of dancers from Russians Anna Pavlova and Rudolf Nureyev to Americans like Gregory Hines and Martha Graham.
We visited with Museum Director Laura DiRado and Curatorial Associate Lisa Kolosek ahead of the July 11 ACE Mixer at the Museum to give Alliance members an inside look at how to balance creativity and business restrictions to maximize the visitor experience. Interestingly, neither Laura nor Lisa had a dance background prior to joining the Museum staff: Laura for many years worked as a freelance graphic designer with a focus on interpretive site design for the National Forest Service and other clients before taking on her roles at the Museum, first as Exhibition Coordinator and Designer and most recently as Director; while Lisa is an art historian and writer with a Master’s degree in the History of Design and Curatorial Studies.
Location: 99 South Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY
Employees: 7 in the Museum, 11 Dance Instructors
In business since: 1986
What would you share with Creatives about working at the Dance Museum?
In a small Museum like ours everyone does a little bit of everything and none of us is above any task. It keeps our team strong. You learn so much when you get to do all sorts of things; in a larger work environment you could easily get pigeonholed into specific roles. There is a certain glamour to working at a large Museum, but the experience you gain in a small operation makes you open to everything and gives you a great sense of the bigger picture.
Does reporting to a Board of Directors and being on State property have an impact on the creative process?
It doesn’t with our Board; Michele Riggi is the President and she and the Board absolutely have the Museum’s best interest at heart. They want the Museum to look fabulous and they are very supportive of what we’re doing. We are very fortunate. We definitely run ideas by the Board and ask their advice, but we essentially have complete artistic freedom. As a designer and as a curator that’s a dream.
Our location in the park is sometimes a challenge. The building is quite linear, and often there isn’t a natural path for an exhibition. Also, we are just one of many buildings in a gigantic park system. They have limited staff and there is red tape to cut through for work to be approved for the building since we’re tenants. For instance, we all work off a DSL system with 4.7 mbps for the staff and there is a long State process to getting a new system in place.
Since you had no dance affiliations, how did your background and experience help make you successful at the Museum?
Lisa: I worked freelance for many years, including writing a book for another museum, which helped when researching the material in our archives for our 30th anniversary book last year. I’m also a huge fan of dance. The Museum itself has great relationships in the dance world and we continue to cultivate new affiliations through our Hall of Fame and exhibitions. In our experience, dance companies and individuals have been quite receptive to working with us.
Laura: Working for a wide-format digital printing company gave me great knowledge for my role as designer at the Museum: to figure out which products can be used, how to apply them, and costs gave me unique insight into the exhibition process. I’ve particularly come to learn that many visitors prefer to be greeted with a catalog or pamphlet, (get more info about how to make one here), so they know what exhibits they can expect to see within the building, as well as the many different events that will be coming up in the future. Every bit of knowledge helps.
What can ACE members look forward to seeing at the Mixer on July 11th?
The focus will be on two new exhibitions: Gender Neutral, which explores the history of nontraditional gender roles in dance and Dancers After Dark, which features nude photographs of dancers in locations around the world taken by New York Times best-selling author Jordan Matter. Different spaces within the Museum are often used for dance performance and we are excited that there will also be a live dance component to the event.