Barrick Museum director Alisha Kerlin on the life and future of the city’s only existing art museum
Both as an artist and as the newly permanent executive director of the Barrick Museum of Art, Alisha Kerlin has been fixated on the moment of viewership: the thoughts and feelings you have when first viewing a piece of art. That’s a big upside of her job directing Las Vegas’ only existing art museum. “It’s such a privilege to do that,” she says. “I love that we’ve created a welcoming and safe place for dialogue here.”
How did the time you spent studying and creating art prepare you for your current role?
My background as an artist gives me some insight between the artists and the museum staff. When an artist is, say, obsessing over a word in the press release, as an artist I understand why that’s important. When something is confusing with a contract or you’re fighting for your rights, for example, that’s important to me. I strive to pay artists, because I know how long it takes to make something. I’m sensitive to what it takes to make art and show it. When you put your art into a space, you have to let go, and that loss of control is sometimes fraught.
What does a typical day at the Barrick look like?
We’re very busy, so a day is a ton of creative energy. We might have 40 students come in on a bus in the morning. We’re making new projects, meetings are happening, talking about future collaborations both on and off campus. We might have a 13-hour day because in the evening, we might have a poetry reading, or a University Forum (lecture), or a workshop, or a tour with a curator. It’s an active, active place. We all (my staff) do a little bit of everything. The same people who are writing grants or booking facility rentals or working with interns are hanging the shows, packing the artwork for shipping out, doing lighting, customer service, and public speaking. To work in an art museum means you have to be skilled in a lot of things. It’s not boring.
What are some of your goals moving forward?
Well, accreditation with the American Alliance of Museums. And in order to be accredited, you have to strengthen your infrastructure and your policies. This museum has gone through a lot of transitions. We changed the name when I was interim director and added “of Art” to it. It was a natural history museum before that. We’re gonna strengthen those policies and go up for accreditation. I also want to strengthen our commitment to inclusion and diversity. I want to continue to bring shows that link us to a national and international art world conversation. I want to continue with a lot of what we’re doing for students and being a creative nexus for collaboration.
Are there any recent installations at the Barrick that you’ve found particularly inspiring?
Andrew Schoultz painted from the floor to the top of the walls. He covered the entire museum with paint, and I’ve never thought of the space that way. The walls of a museum are white; it’s a white cube, it’s a ritual space, and to paint on top of it is a statement. So I felt like I broke some rules there.