Mary Ceruti ’87 is prioritizing accessibility in art as the new executive director at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Mary Ceruti ’87 was completing her degrees in philosophy and art history at Haverford just as sculptors Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen were perfecting Spoonbridge and Cherry, an installation commissioned by the Walker Art Center for the adjacent Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The couple’s 7,000-pound creation went on to emblemize the Minnesota city—and Ceruti went on to become the Walker’s executive director, 30 years later.
"Seeing this giant, iconic spoon with a cherry on top every day when I go to work is exciting, but it’s even more exciting that we are continually adding sculptures to the garden. The Walker and the park outside are not static places—they are always evolving with new pieces,” says Ceruti, who left New York in January with her husband and their 13-year-old daughter to take the helm at one of the world’s best-known contemporary art institutions.
Ceruti had spent the prior two decades heading SculptureCenter, a non-collecting museum in Queens with 14 staff members and an audience primarily comprising artists and art professionals. The Walker’s 150 employees, collection of 15,000 objects, and million-plus annual visitors, however, didn’t intimidate her.
"I had followed the institution since I was young, and it felt like the kind of place I wanted to work, especially with its support of emerging artists and its role in bringing art to the community through many programs—exhibitions, performing arts, cinema, education. This was the right next step for me to think more broadly and have a larger impact,” she says.
Making art accessible to members of diverse communities, particularly those within the Twin Cities, is a top priority for Ceruti, who counts the Walker’s education department among its greatest assets. The institution has long championed youth programming, offering free admission for teenagers and supporting a first-of-its-kind Teen Arts Council that organizes projects museum-wide. Area schools, particularly those where a majority of students rely on free- or reduced-lunch plans, are frequently invited for field trips at no cost. Another free program tailors experiences for visitors with autism or sensory processing differences, who may be uncomfortable in a crowded gallery.
"Our audience is wonderfully complicated, and we need to think about making sure world-class art is relevant to everyone in it. This involves a whole layering process, from having tours and wall labels in multiple languages to educators who are trained to assist visitors with disabilities,” Ceruti says. “If we as an institution can provide a diversity of experiences for people of all backgrounds, we can engage and challenge audiences while also serving as a respite and a safe space.”