Portrait of new face at Masterworks
While everyone else hunkered down during Covid-19, Risa Hunter was focused on change.
Foremost in her thoughts was how to build on the legacy of Tom Butterfield, the founder and creative director of Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art.
The 32-year-old joins the gallery tomorrow and will take over from Mr Butterfield when the 71-year-old “steps back with a view of retiring” in 15 months.
“Tom has not only been the leader of this organisation for over 30 years, but he is also the founder, and with that the Masterworks brand is very much connected to Tom,” Ms Hunter said.
“That being said, Tom, the board and the team have been wonderfully welcoming and it is clear that all are excited to turn a new leaf.
“I am looking forward to working alongside him and I believe that with our efforts combined, we can develop a vision for the future of this special organisation. But I think in this type of role you never can fill someone else’s shoes, you bring your own energy and skills to the table. You walk in your own shoes.”
The “tough” interview process taught her to be prepared to take on almost anything when it came to fundraising.
Mr Butterfield has used telethons, bike rides, costume parties, marathons — basically whatever he could think of — to raise funds for Masterworks, the non-profit he started in 1987 with a mission to repatriate art about Bermuda or by Bermudians.
His efforts allowed the gallery to move into its present home — a purpose-built museum in the Botanical Gardens — in 2008.
It helped that Mr Butterfield developed a thick skin along the way.
“I have had phones slammed down,” he said. “I have had people cross the street when they see me for fear I may do that ask.”
Ms Hunter’s immediate challenge is to see Masterworks through the crisis-weakened economy.
“Even in January, I wasn’t expecting this would hit us this hard globally,” she said. “It is an added challenge.”
She will initially work remotely and thinks it will present an opportunity to step back, pivot and rethink how things are done at the gallery.
Mr Butterfield said Masterworks did not expect the response it received when it advertised the post.
“It was such a surprise to see 20 people apply for the job,” he said. “There were a number of things about Risa that appealed to me including her age, intelligence, deportment, energy, skills to communicate, confidence, skills in HR, social ability, curiosity and willingness to learn.
“We could have delayed the changeover because of the pandemic, but that would only be putting things off. I think we’ve made the right decision to continue with the transition. Covid-19 will impact Masterworks big time. Her challenge will be making supporting the arts appealing to donors.”
Ms Hunter took dance, drama, choir and art classes while growing up, but pursued a business career after university. She worked in human resources at PwC for nine years.
“I became a little disconnected from my passion for the arts,” she said. “I really loved my career; I had a lot of incredible mentors there and a lot of people that really supported me on that journey.
“Coming out of that I got to this point where I thought about the next 35 years of my career. I thought, OK, I really want to be more aligned to something I am super passionate about.”
She was not sure what that was until a visit to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam several years ago.
“They have these massive Rembrandts there,” she said.
“It really gives you that awe-inspiring experience where you are connecting with history, art and culture. For me it really cemented this idea and ignited that passion that I had disconnected with from earlier years in my life. It allowed me to think ‘bigger picture’ about the opportunities within museums. Often, what you are supposed to be doing is just staring you in the face.”
She is in the middle of a master’s degree in museum studies with Harvard University. Her thesis looks at how people aged 20 to 40 interact with museums today.
Spoiler: most are more concerned with the social impact of a museum than artworks and objects.
In July last year, she joined the National Museum of Bermuda to help with communications and fundraising.
Although she had hoped to find work here, she was prepared to look overseas for opportunities if that was not possible. And while leaving PWC was a little scary, she felt confident she was on the right track.
“I was so excited when I found out I got the job,” she said. “I was elated. I feel a little nervous about starting at Masterworks tomorrow, but in a good way.”
Meanwhile, Mr Butterfield does not plan to sit back and do nothing in his “retirement”. His hope is to return to photography, a subject he studied at Ryerson University in Toronto in his twenties.
“I have lots of projects I want to pursue,” he said. “In running a museum you have to be a chameleon. You cannot have an off day. You never know when someone will walk in and want a tour of the museum. I would love to have a change of lifestyle ... doing something a bit different.”
Ms Hunter thinks the arts will be more important than ever once we have got through the pandemic.
“It can take you out of the current situation and bring you into another space, one that feels good,” she said. “A lot of people are really struggling within their domestic life. Our hope is that art can somehow connect with people and help them through this time.
“I have tons of ideas. There is so much to think about in terms of education and programming and engaging people on social media. Tom has created an incredible museum and such a legacy. I am really excited about how to push that legacy forward into the next phase of the Masterworks life. There are exciting and challenging times ahead.”
• For more information about Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art, visit bermudamasterworks.org
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