Five minutes with Shannon Fitzgerald, executive director, Mennello Museum of American Art

Shannon Fitzgerald is a contemporary art curator, museum professional, writer, and educator whose work focuses on international emerging and mid-career artists and thinkers. As a visual arts leader, she has a record of success in contemporary art museum leadership, curatorial practice, and non-profit administration to include exhibition making, research and scholarship, program development, education and community outreach, publishing, strategic planning, fundraising, grant writing, and staff and volunteer recruitment and supervision. She came to the Mennello Museum, owned and operated by the City of Orlando, in September 2015.

In addition to strengthening the Museum’s outreach, programming, exhibits and collections, she is overseeing a $20 million capital campaign that will result in a 40,000 square-foot museum facility integrated around the current 12,000 square-foot museum building on Lake Formosa designed to preserve and reimagine our green space, the intimacy of the Dr. Phillips Home, walking and bike paths and sculpture garden.

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When did you first get interested in art as a career?

I come from the traditional museum route as a trained art historian in museum studies and curatorial practice. However, it was an early education/work in fashion design that led me to textiles and material culture that then led me to global cultures and art history. I wanted to know what was being made, by who and who put into the world and why.

Why are the arts so important to society? 

Art has existed since the beginning of time and is present in every culture. It is the production of new knowledge and new ideas in visual form, and as such good art is ahead of its time, and imparts value – truth, beauty, acknowledgment, documentation, emotion and more.  The diversity of culture informs innovative art, impacts society, improves communities, and our understanding of the world.

What would you like the community to know about the Mennello Museum of American Art? 

That we have many offerings — and we are always working to expand the definitions of what “American” means in art and art history — that it is broad, richly diverse and crosses the borders and boundaries of geography, medium and the imagination. I would like the community to know that while hidden (not always visible from Princeton or Mills streets) we are a beautiful oasis — a respite nestled on Lake Formosa.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? 

My direct engagement with the community and with artists, writers and thinkers — those whose work is challenging and whose production creates new meaning across culture and time. At its best, it means I am learning and expanding my mind all the time. My greatest satisfaction is when I can think anew, regularly. 

What advice would you give other women who are interested in careers in the arts?

I suggest finding one’s unique strengths and developing them. Identify what may be missing, what needs to be done and how might you contribute? The art world can be extraordinarily competitive and there is still much “paradigm-shifting” work to be done in the field.