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New Director Erin Coe Says Palmer Museum Could Help Drive Tourism

by on September 11, 2017 5:00 AM

Erin Coe was instrumental in the growth of the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, New York, where she spent15 as chief curator before being named director in 2015.

Now, she’ll look to advance the mission of Penn State’s Palmer Museum of Art. She becomes the museum’s director effective Monday.

Just before stepping down as director of the Hyde, Coe received a Congressional Recognition for her dedication to cultivating and promoting fine arts by Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York’s 21st District.

As Penn State searched the nation to fill the director’s position at the Palmer, Coe’s reputation and experience made her a prime candidate.

When Penn State first reached out to her, Coe wasn’t immediately sold on the idea.

“I wasn’t looking [for a new job], but I was contacted by a national recruiter that Penn State had contracted for the national search,” says Coe. “After speaking with her and learning more about the Palmer and what they were looking for in a new director, I became excited by the prospect of taking a leadership role.”

Coe knew the Palmer’s reputation for having outstanding collections of American art as well as knowing some of the museum’s past curators. What held her back at first was her lack of a personal experience there.

“I was familiar with the Palmer, but I hadn’t been there, I’d never been to Penn State,” says Coe. “So it was really from those conversations that the more I learned about the Palmer and Penn State and the direction it’s heading in, the more excited I became.”

“When I visited during my interview process I was really overcome with the quality of the collection,” she adds. “I knew it was strong in American art, but it wasn’t until I got there that I was struck by the depth and quality of the permanent collection. And then when I learned about what is on the horizon for the Palmer, in terms of future gifts of artwork, I got really excited because this is a museum that is on the rise. This is a museum that is growing and expanding.”

Throughout the interview process, Coe continued to warm to the thought of taking over the director position. Once she realized that she and the Palmer’s staff had identical goals, she knew she would take the job.

“Alignment is what I’m always looking for,” says Coe. “Can the vision become visible, can we do this? On the parts of the constituents at Penn State, is there a consensus that something has to change at the Palmer, that the Palmer needs to advance? I overwhelmingly felt that [the answer was yes] when I was there, so that was the moment for me.”

As director of the Hyde Collection, Coe worked on improving accessibility and engagement with the community. Adding technology and improving visitor experience were big focuses for her with the Hyde, and she made the museum visible on a national scale.

Her plan is the same for Penn State: to promote engagement with the core community of students and local citizens, and to expand outward to bring in more of a national audience to the Palmer. Eventually, Coe believes that the Palmer could help make Penn State an arts and culture destination.

“I think the Palmer could drive tourism,” says Coe. “Football, I know, is huge at Penn State and rightly so, but the Palmer museum is year-round. It can help drive people to Centre County and to State College and, strategically speaking, take a more lead role in advancing Penn State University’s mission and strategic plan, to have a greater impact — which is what the president has been calling for — and that impact is in the humanities and the arts.”

The Palmer was closed for the summer as renovations were made to increase space for the collection. With the museum reopening on Sept. 5 and Coe to arrive on the 11th, she will hit the ground running toward her goals.

“Looking ahead to the future, and again in line with the president’s strategic plan, he’s calling for a cultural district at the Arboretum and that includes, potentially, a new museum for the Palmer,” Coe says. “So the Palmer collections are growing quite rapidly and they need more room to be exhibited and to be stored, and that’s a lot to be excited about.”

For information on exhibits and collections at the Palmer Museum of Art, go to palmermuseum.psu.edu.

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