Olsen to Head University at Buffalo Art Galleries

Release Date: April 5, 2001 This content is archived.


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Sandra Olsen has been appointed director of the University Art Galleries and director of UB's new graduate program in museum studies.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo today announced the appointment of Sandra Haller Olsen, Ph.D., to be director of the University Art Galleries and director of UB's new graduate program in museum studies in the Department of Art History, College of Arts and Sciences.

In her new position, Olsen will supervise the University Art Gallery in the Center for the Arts on the UB North Campus and the Anderson Art Gallery of the University at Buffalo on Martha Jackson Place in Buffalo.

Olsen is a curator and developer of high-quality, regionally based exhibitions who has served as director of the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University since 1979.

She is taking the position previously held by former UB Art Gallery director Al Harris, who last month became executive director of the Bemis Center of Contemporary Art in Omaha, Neb.

She will report to Charles Stinger, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who called her "an outstanding professional with an outstanding background in museum direction and curatorship." He added that UB will benefit greatly from Olsen's leadership in directing the new museum studies program, expected to begin in September.

As director of the Castellani Art Museum, Olsen received and administered more than $2 million in grants and was responsible for the collection, acquisitions, development and the museum's exhibition schedule. In 1990, she supervised the planning and construction of the new 25,000-square-foot art museum that replaced the Buscaglia-Castellani Gallery.

Olsen holds master's and doctoral degrees in art history and a master's degree in history, all from Boston University. She has been an adjunct professor of art history at UB since 1989, and since 1979 has taught course in museum studies and art history at UB, Niagara University and Canisius College, including those in 19th-century art, modern art and history of printmaking.

Methodologically, she has been at the forefront of collaborative museum practice with public-art projects like "Stations" (1989-93) and "Empire State Partnership" (1997-present).

"Stations" commemorated local families who sheltered African Americans during their passage to freedom to Canada on the Underground Railroad. Olsen directed and coordinated the project with an artistic team that included sculptor Houston Conwill, poet Estella Consill Majozo and architect Joseph de Pace. The National Endowment for the Arts selected "Stations" as one of the best projects in the nation in 1993.

The "Empire State Partnership" project was designed to identify, develop and support best practices in educational and cultural collaborations focused on achieving the New York State learning standards adopted in 1996. The Castellani Museum project, conducted with the Lewiston-Porter School District, was one of four museum/school partnerships selected for inclusion in "pARTnerships," a PBS documentary film produced by WNET-TV in New York City and broadcast statewide during the fall of 1999.

Among Olsen's recent and notable curatorial accomplishments is "Echoes: Survey of a Century," the current exhibition at the Castellani Museum of paintings by Arnold Mesches, a contemporary history painter who blends realism with surrealist imagery and content.

Olsen also was a member of the interdisciplinary curatorial team for "Across Borders: Beadwork in Iroquois Life," an exhibition by native and non-native scholars organized and circulated by the Castellani Museum and Montreal's McCord Museum of Canadian Art. It was developed in collaboration with the Kaniern'kehaka Raotitiohkwa Cultural Center, Kahnawake, the Tuscarora Nation community beadworkers within New York State and the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.

During her tenure, the Castellani Museum developed its highly regarded Folk Arts Program, which collaborates with local ethnic and minority communities in preserving and presenting their traditional arts and locates and documents folk artists often unknown outside of their own family and friends. The work then is used in exhibitions, publications, artist demonstrations and performances that bring traditional arts to a wider audience. The program also has developed a permanent archive of folk-arts documentation as a resource for teachers and scholars.

"Sandra Olsen has certainly distinguished herself as a museum colleague during her many years at the Castellani," said Douglas Schultz, director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

"I was very pleased to learn that she will be heading up the David Anderson Gallery and the University Art Gallery," he said, "and even more pleased to know that she will be directing the UB program in museum studies. It is a position for which she is very well-qualified and will, I'm sure, offer one more opportunity for her to distinguish herself in the field and to make a major contribution to the region."

Olsen is a past recipient of the William Wells Brown Award for outstanding contributions to the preservation of Afro-American History, and several Samuel H. Kress Foundation research and travel grants.

She is a member of the board of directors of the Museum Association of New York and the Gallery Association of New York, is Niagara County commissioner of the Freedom Trail and is a member of the advisory board of Buffalo's El Museo de Diego Rivera.

She has served as a consultant, advisory-board member and director of a number of statewide and university- or college-based art projects since 1980 and has written or edited several publications, including "French Drawings and Sketchbooks of the Eighteenth Century" (University of Chicago Press) and "Belgian Caricature 1848-1870 and the Lithographs of Felicien Rops" (University of Michigan Microform International).

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