DinnerTable with Stephanie Stebich
ArtTable members gathered in the home of collectors Amy and Josh Kuhnert for a dinner and conversation with Stephanie Stebich, the director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) and the Renwick Gallery. She spoke about the challenges of directing both SAAM and the Renwick, two distinct museums within the 21-institution Smithsonian family. SAAM is the second most-attended art museum in D.C, and Stephanie spoke of her desire to define and maintain a strong museum brand with s. Praising the great variety that the DC arts scene offers, she also raised the issue of how to be both a local and national museum.
Stephanie discussed the changing nature of art museums, and the quest to continue connecting with new generations of people across platforms through art. Modern museum-goers have demonstrated a desire for a deeper connection with art than a surface level interaction. The Renwick especially has created a strong connection with millennials; its Burning Man exhibition doubled the museum’s attendance.
Recently, a congressional mandate decreed that women are underrepresented in the history of The United States. In response, the Smithsonian’s American Women’s History initiative, along with a national committee, was launched in February 2018. Stephanie was named co-chair of the initiative this past May. With the tagline “because of her story,” this initiative aims to amplify women’s voices of the past and present, and empower future generations. Stephanie said that she aims to create a ladder, not a pipeline, in museum work. Raising the question of how to step into one’s power, the conversation with Stephanie was an inspiring take on how to do so.