The Metro Scene

Angie Dodson – Blazing a New Trail as the Leader of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Art

Angie Dodson – Blazing a New Trail in the Fine Arts

by Henrietta MacGuire

Angie Dodson may be the most dangerous person you know. She is so disarming that almost without realizing it, you’ll be pouring out your heart to her with your darkest secrets, things you haven’t revealed to anyone since your kindergarten days.

When one reporter told her she sometimes embellishes the truth in an interview, Dodson snapped back, “I can out-lie you any day. Bigger and wilder — that’s what I do best.”

That may be why Dr. Laurie Weil, former board chairman of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, says Dodson is easy to work with because her sense of humor always comes out. “[Laurie]’s delightful. Finds the ridiculous in many things,” Weil said. “But then can re-emerge as the gimlet-eyed director before you’ve read the minutes.”

American society is still at the stage where 48% of museums of art have a woman as the director, and 52% have men. “I don’t feel like a path-finder,” Dodson said, “because I belong to a second generation of women directors who have been successful. But the eyebrows still go up a little.”

She feels pushed higher by the financial position of the museum, since about two thirds of its expenses are covered by the city and the county of Montgomery. Therefore, wanting to or not, she is often involved with the politics of the state. In many meetings she walks into the room as the only woman present. That makes her want to be known as a strong leader who happens to be a woman, rather than as a leader.

Gender or not, she finds a major gap in leadership. “There are no people of color in any positions of authority,” she said. “Most organization benefit from greater racial diversity, and I hope we will decide to change.”

Weil welcomes Dodson’s bringing a modern method of management. “[Laurie] believes in a collaborative style of leadership,” she said. “We must get the community to join committees and boards to resolve problems. If museum members will invest their time and effort, we can move forward so much more easily.”

Dodson said few local people are aware of what an extraordinary organization the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts is. Through the years, the administration and the staff have done wonders in using their resources wisely and productively. With no waste and no extravagance, they have created an institution, which has become a cultural leader in the Southeast, especially known for its collections of American Art and Old Master Prints. “Now what we need,” she adds, “is to strengthen our African American And Asian collections, and to take advantage of the varying works and perspectives of those artists.”

The museum’s senior curator of painting and sculpture, Margaret Lynn Augsberg, remembers the opening of the new Sculpture Garden. It was Dodson’s first day on the job. She was well received by the staff. “[Laurie} brought a contemporary management style; she was eager to work with the staff and she wanted to include as many voices as possible,” said Augsberg. “We felt we were fortunate to have her.”

A new director is supposed to have plans for the future development of her unfamiliar institution, and Dodson complied. All she wanted was a colossal endowment to do the following things:

“It’s important to raise the professional level of the staff. They should go somewhere to study the latest ideas or concepts so that the Montgomery Museum is on the cutting edge of new theories. Bigger exhibitions should be brought to the MMFA. This community deserves them and would benefit from exposure to new artistic expression.”

“The museum should buy more works of local artists. That’s one of the best ways to support and encourage creativity.

“We need more frequent and educational programs. Too many children have too few opportunities to become acquainted with all the benefits that the arts provide.”

As a wish list, those virtual requests are quite modest. Dodson refuses to speculate when that endowment will come.

It’s significant, however, that Dodson was willing to move from Washington, D.C., to Montgomery for this opportunity. It meant leaving the glamour and glitter of a museum specializing in 20th century luxury to a museum in a community with a heavy load of history darkened by slavery and lynching. But she was not hesitant about coming. “People keep asking me why I’ve returned to MGM after more than 20 years,” she said, quickly giving her response. “Because it’s a worthy place to work in and live in. It has become a center of pilgrimage for civil rights, a historic area for people who are striving to relate to each other by actually listening to what is being said.”

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