Get to Know NMWA’s Director: Part 1

Blog Category:  Director's Desk
Susan Fisher Sterling, Director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts

NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling answers questions about art, equity, and travel. This is part two of a two-part questionnaire. Explore part two.

A woman with light skin and greying brown hair stands beside a white sculpture made of painted wood. She wears a black jacket cinched with a brown leather belt, a white camisole, and a large, circular brown broach with a black tassel
NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling; Photo by Michele Mattei

Was there a pivotal moment that led you to working in the arts? If so, what was it?

From the time I was in fourth grade, I had the good fortune to take school field trips to the Cleveland Museum of Art. We went on Mondays when it was closed to the public so I always felt like it was a very special place. Since it’s an encyclopedic museum, you could see everything from early civilizations through to the early 20th century. The now-famous director Sherman E. Lee brought in Asian art that glowed on the walls. In high school I was able to have a one-day-a-week internship, working with Henry Hawley who was an expert on Fabergé eggs.

Which women artists do you admire most?

I admire the next artist I am about to see. But to narrow it down, right now I deeply appreciate great artists who are all about creating social awareness with intentions to incite social change. I am drawn to artists who are handling big topics, and creating art that makes you think about our world.

Which historical women artists would you like to invite to a dinner party?

I would like to dine with women artists from French society in the 18th century. There was a brief period when women held court in the salons of Paris before the French Revolution. It was the beginning of the modern age. At the table it would be great to see Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun—who became the court painter to Marie Antoinette—as well as Marguerite Gérard, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, and Anne Vallayer-Coster.

A painting of a young woman with light skin, brown eyes, and dark hair wrapped in a blue and orange headscarf. She wears a large amber earring and a yellow dress over a gauzy white blouse. She sits in front of a neutral brown background.
Elisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun, Portrait of Princess Belozersky, 1798; Oil on canvas, 31 x 26 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Rita M. Cushman in memory of George A. Rentschler; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

If you could change one thing in the art world, what would it be?

The reputation of women in the art world. In music, there are blind juries so the judges can’t see the gender or race of the person playing. Perhaps this needs to be considered more within visual art competitions.

What is the role of art in our society?

It’s central! Essential!

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