The Flint Institute of Art is one of those gems that truly shines in Michigan’s Art World. With over 9,000 objects from around the world, Michigan can find it’s place in a global context. How does Tracee and her team decide which objects go on display? What about getting traveling exhibitions in? And what is she doing to bring the community and the art world closer together?
Flint Institute of Art Website
1120 East Kearsley Street
Flint, Michigan 48503-1915
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: And so all of these different elements made me really excited to take the museum to the next direction. We are coming up on our hundredth anniversary in 2028, so it’s also a good time to.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Not only reflect on our history, but also think about the future.
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Cliff Duvernois: Hello everyone and welcome back to the Call of Leadership podcast. Today I’m sitting with Tracee Glab. She is the executive director of the Flint Institute. Art. If you haven’t had an opportunity to come down here, you really should because this place, uh, the photos online really don’t do it Justice and a place is just absolutely beautiful.
Cliff Duvernois: And we’ll be talking with Trace today about, uh, the FIA and, uh, what it’s done for the community as well as for preserving the arts. So, Tracy, how are you?
Cliff Duvernois: I’m doing well. Thank you for asking. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up?
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Sure. I grew up in Detroit, in southwest Detroit, to be more specific. And my parents were working class and they had absolutely no interest in the arts whatsoever.
Cliff Duvernois: we
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: motorcycles and bowling, and so that’s what I really grew up around and with.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: But it was field trips to museums during. Uh, schoolhood days, um, especially at the Detroit public schools that really got my interest in the arts and, and cultural aspect of life and was really, I really got hooked by it.
Cliff Duvernois: Life. So where did you go to college then?
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: For my undergrad, I went to University of Michigan Dearborn for art history, and then for my master’s degree I went to Wayne State University.
Cliff Duvernois: Now, has it always been your interest or desire to work in the the art field, so to speak?
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Sort of, so when I was in high school and, and then even when I went first went to college, I thought I wanted to be a journalist. I was a writer. So I was really interested in pursuing that, getting a job as a writer. And then I took an art history class and sort of just really saw a whole new world open to me where it had all the things I was interested in, art, history, culture, and writing literature most.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Artworks that famous or otherwise are usually connected or inspired by a written word. Everything from history to the Bible to big narrative epics and like Shakespeare and, and Homer and the Odyssey and all of those kinds of great mythology, Greek and Roman mythology. And, and so my mind just really opened up to a whole new world that I didn’t really know existed. Switched my major from English to art history. And as part of that I took an internship at a museum at the Detroit Institute of Arts and really began to see how I could have a career in, in art using my art history degree. And the rest is history. I’m here now at the Linn Institute of Arts.
Cliff Duvernois: So how did you come to the Flint Institute of Arts?
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: I was working at the Detroit Institute of Arts. I was in the publication department. I was the editor of the Bulletin, which was the scholarly journal for the Dia. I. I was also working on getting my master’s degree. It was 2009 and it was also during the recession and they laid off 65 employees, and I was one of those employees.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: They laid off someone from every single department and in my department of publication, so there was four people. So it was just sort of the thing that I got laid. They offered me a part-time job in exhibitions, which I took because I didn’t wanna leave the museum altogether, and it was. At the time I was, because I was getting my master’s degree, I was really moving toward being a curator and I really wanted to be a curator.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: So I volunteered in my, because the exhibitions job was part-time to work in the European paintings department with Sal at the time, Salvador was the curator and really got so excited about, you know, thinking about being a curator. And, and again, I was working as an. And he, Salvador let me know about this job in at, in Flint.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: And it was part-time and it was grant funded and it, and it had to do with researching and writing a book on the bra gallery, which is the, the gallery that features our tapestries and furniture from the Renaissance and Baroque period. And I said, well, I don’t think I’m, they’re gonna hire me because I don’t have any curatorial experience.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: I have publications that was like going in my favor, but I didn’t have curatorial experience.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: But Salvador really encouraged me. He said, you know, just try, just go, you go ahead and do the interview if nothing else. It’s a good experience. And so I did. I came up to Flint and did the interview, and I got the. And I worked part-time for about a year and a half here, uh, again, on this grant funded project, and eventually became, was offered a full-time job and that led me to be the department head of the curatorial department collections and exhibitions. And I worked at that job for about 10 years. So all tall.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: I’ve been at the Flun Institute of Arts for 14 years When the executive director, Don Henry was announced he was retiring, I knew that I wanted to go for the,
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: your hat go for the job. Yeah.
Cliff Duvernois: Yes. Nice. Now, before, when you’re talking about Salvador,
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: mm-hmm. ,so currently he’s the director of the DIA. But at the time when I worked with him, he was the curator of European paintings.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: He’s, um, Salvador Salort-Pons is his name, and, and he’s the director now at the DIA.
Cliff Duvernois: So then the next question I got for you is, cause I’d like to explore to this a little bit more. You’re talking about how just doing the curating just really ignited a passion in you. What do you think it was specifically about curating that just
Cliff Duvernois: lit you
Cliff Duvernois: on
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: fly. Sure. I think what I love about museums and what I loved about being a curator is that I think every object has a story to tell. It’s a story. The humans who made it, needed it, paid for it,
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: the that loved it, probably. And I think you can look at every object in a museum. Everything from a, an artifact, from an ancient, prehistoric culture all the way up to a modern painting.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: And you can say that that object has a story to tell because it’s, it’s something. The artist felt passionate about making, or maybe it filled a need. A lot of the works in our collections were never meant to be in a museum. Frankly. They were made to be. Used in a house of worship or in a ritual or in some other aspect of life.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: And it has since been collected by people who wanted to preserve that piece of history and, and is now in a museum. But it had a very different life outside of a museum. So to answer your question about what inspired me, curatorially, I was able. First of all, get close proximity to those objects and really get to study them up close and personal, but also to study why they were important.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Why were they in a museum? What was their history, what was their background? And I just love that kind of thing. And again, it come, it goes back to my background as a writer and a storyteller. Really connect with those objects because of the story aspect. So for me, curating what I always loved about it was to be able to share with people what this life of this object was prior to being in a museum.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: How we can relate to it today, and what does it teach us about ourselves.
Cliff Duvernois: Wow, that’s incredible. I love that answer. The, so now
Cliff Duvernois: the previous
Cliff Duvernois: director get ready to retire and you decided, you know what, I’m gonna throw
Cliff Duvernois: my
Cliff Duvernois: hat in the ring. What I would like to do is just take a moment and, and just ask the question cuz there’s a lot of people that hesitate cuz they say, oh, I’m not
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: ready, don’t have
Cliff Duvernois: education. Uh, I didn’t have enough weedies this morning. Whatever that excuse might be. What made you decide, you know what, I’ve got the skills to do this. What, what was that
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: that thought
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: process like?
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: That’s a really good question. I think it was not just one moment. I think it was several moments in my life that led me to that. I have a really strong support system in my life.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: My family has always been very supportive, especially my husband, Jonathan. He always saw the potential in me and encouraged me to do the next thing, even though it may have felt scary. Like I couldn’t do it. So I think the people in my life, I can definitely say that that’s part of it. Another thing was I had really good mentors along the way.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Both the previous director and other curators, other people that have worked at the Flint Institute of Arts always e encouraged me to do what maybe. Was a challenge or something that was outside of my comfort zone. And so I felt like all of those people really helped me in, in making that decision. But then also I thought, what do I have to lose?
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: I mean, I really felt like if I. D if I don’t, if I try and don’t get it, that then I’ll just have learned something about the whole process and maybe I’ll try another day, not, not necessarily at this museum, but another one.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: But
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: if I don’t try, then I will never know. So that to me was more of an incentive to say that I have to do it, I have to give it a shot and, and I think at a certain point you just have to do, and then the confidence comes.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: I mean, sometimes I think action just brings the confidence and you just have to embrace the fear that it’s gonna be part of it.
Cliff Duvernois: Action brings confidence. I so love
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: love that, that
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Cliff Duvernois: Hello everyone. Welcome back, and we are talking with Tracee Glab from the FIA. Now, Tracee, before the break we were talking a little bit about your, your decision to become the director here at the FIA. What I would like to do is, I would like to start talking now about, cuz every director that comes in, every person that’s, you know, in charge, it’s, it’s your vision, it’s your tempo, it’s, it’s your pace when you come in.
Cliff Duvernois: The vision that you have, so that way you know, you communicate that with the staff. Why don’t you share with us a little bit about when you, when you took over, what
Cliff Duvernois: was
Cliff Duvernois: your vision
Cliff Duvernois: going forward?
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Sure. Well, I really, one of the things that maybe so excited about being the executive director here is my familiarity with collection. Astounding collection over 9,000 objects from ancient to contemporary. And so I knew we had a really strong foundation in just the objects that we, that we have. But we also have a tremendous art school here that is a community based art school and very robust and interesting classes.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: And I was excited about how those two together would really be, would work together and be. Something that would really inspire the community and bring the community together in interesting ways. The building itself is beautiful, as you mentioned at the top or where it. Does, it looks better even in, in person than, than on pictures.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: So I knew we had all these really strong elements. The staff here also were amazing and, and I, I knew that because I was one of them and, and, and got to work with them. And so all of these different elements made me really excited to take the museum to the next direction. We are coming up on our hundredth anniversary in 2028, so it’s also a good time to.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Not only reflect on our history, but also think about the future. And for me, I think we can only keep growing in terms of our diversity of our audience, what we, the people that, that come here and, and use our facilities, whether it’s the art school or the museum. And I was really excited about the ways that we can start to build bridges into the community.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: And we’ve been doing that. It’s not like that, that my directorship would be bringing something new. We have been doing that, but I wanted to explore different ways we could do that and. What might be possible, some of my ideas, you know, are going out into the community and, and seeing ways we can make those connections with people where they live.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: And also just to really find out from the community what they want from their museum. So, and I really want that emphasis to be their museum. So this is a public. We hold all of these objects in the public trust. It’s what a museum is. And so I want, I want everyone to feel like it’s their museum, and it’s not us and them, but it’s all of us together.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: So for me, that, that was really part of my mission is to, to, to bring more people into the museum, make them feel a sense of ownership, and also find out
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: from.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Our community how to do that, because to me, I don’t have the, all the answers. One of my core values is listening. So I really wanted to, and I still want to both listen to our community that we serve as well as our staff. So just to hear from people what they want and, and also ways that we can achieve that goal. So I don’t think I have all the answers and I wanna
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: hear from other people.
Cliff Duvernois: and I think that’s really clever that you’re doing that because I could see that from a lot of people’s standpoint, they’re, you know, Hey, let’s get billboards on 75. Let’s try to capture as much tourist traffic as we possibly can. But your approach to this is, Hey, let’s go out into the community.
Cliff Duvernois: There are so many people here. That probably live within a mile or two of FIA have never been here. They might know that it’s here, but why would I go to a museum? So by going out and, and taking
Cliff Duvernois: the
Cliff Duvernois: pulse of the community and finding out, hey, you know, what is it that, that you like or what would, what would the be things that you would look for?
Cliff Duvernois: What would interest you? Uh, I think would be really critical to make sure you’re getting more people to come to the, to museum
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Mm-hmm.
Cliff Duvernois: you said
Cliff Duvernois: 9,000
Cliff Duvernois: pieces.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Well, 9,500 right now is, is is the average . We, we, we, we fluctuate here and there, but that’s, that’s about the, that’s the gist of it right
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: now.
Cliff Duvernois: Yeah. Just to just try to get those community people in here to take advantage of this.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: And now they’re not all on view that, that big number is always kinda deceiving.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Uh, we only have space in our galleries to show about 8% of that, but we rotate objects. We put object.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: In different installations and exhibitions. So we try to get that, those objects rotating out through the galleries. Everything is available on our website though. If you do, if you are interested to seeing what we have, we have everything published online
Cliff Duvernois: now. When you’re talking about like 9,500 pieces and
Cliff Duvernois: you’re talking
Cliff Duvernois: like only 8% of them are on
Cliff Duvernois: display at any point in time. Let’s talk a little bit about the types of objects that you have. Is it just pure Michigan
Cliff Duvernois: history?
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Is
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: it
Cliff Duvernois: history?
Cliff Duvernois: What is this?
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: It’s world history. Not a hundred percent complete, but very comprehensive for a museum our size.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: So we start off in our first galleries. If I could just take you through of like a virtual walkthrough, uh, with the Art of America’s Gallery. We have both indigenous artwork from, uh, the. Ancient Americas, so the time before Columbus and from Mexico, Costa Rica, south America, those countries, as well as we have gallery dedicated to.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Indigenous, uh, art from the United States, from different, native American cultures as well as in Canada. So we have these different galleries that are themed to reflect the art of that area. We sort of, so we sort of start off geographically, we move on to Arts of Africa where we have lots of different objects.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Mostly masks and other ritual items that would’ve been associated with different cultural groups in Africa from all various countries. And because Africa’s a continent, it’s, it’s very large. And so there’s lots of different. Different cultures represented. And then we moved to the arts of Asia where we have everything from China to Japan to Southeast Asia.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: We then have Europe, European art from roughly the 17th century up to the Baroque period. So we’re looking at paintings and sculpture and tapestries from the time period. We also. American art from both 19th century up to present day, and our European art also carries over to present day. We have entire wing dedicated to contemporary craft, which is glass and ceramics, and this all dates from the 21st century to present.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: And then we have special exhibition galleries, which like I said, we, we feature different artwork from mostly themed exhibitions, different styles or artists or even techniques. We might be focusing on different aspects of art, make the art making process. So, and those rotate out. So if you come here in the fall, you’re gonna see a totally different museum than when you came in the spring.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: So it’s that kind of idea that the exhibitions constantly change, but the permanent collection or these other galleries I just described stay pretty static.
Cliff Duvernois: collection, how do you go about deciding what’s gonna be. Like what the new exhibit is going to be.
Cliff Duvernois: Does it, is it something that you do like every July, this is the exhibit you have, or is just every year you look at the calendar and
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: It’s a long process because these exhibitions often take a great deal planning. Because most of the time they’re loaned exhibitions, meaning we don’t own the objects, they’re on loan to us. So the current exhibition we have right now is called Enchanted, A History of Fantasy Illustration, and they’re all artworks on loan from the Norman Rockwell Museum.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: So that was an exhibition that we started working with the Norman Rockwell Museum about two years ago, and knowing that it would eventually come to the Flint Institute of Arts. It. At their venue and then came to us after another venue in between. And those are,
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: but to get back to your question on how we choose, we tend to look at exhibitions as a way to both fulfill our mission, uh, which is to the, to advance the understanding and appreciation for art of Art for all.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: And then also see how it fills a need because we, for something like the Fantasy Exhibition, for example, we don’t have anything like that in our collection, so we wouldn’t be able to show an exhibition quite like this. So it filled a need. And then we’re also looking at different demographics of audience that we want to reach, whether it’s.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Younger group or maybe someone that maybe is sort of a popular appeal this exhibition because it deals with Dungeons and Dragons and Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings. All of those kinds of things that are, are kind of a popular subjects right now. Not necessarily something that you would see in an art museum.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: So we are, we’re kind of looking at those different things. Audience builders. Or because most of our exhibitions, that is the audience driver people will come to see the FIA just because they’re interested in our collection. But a lot of times the out of town visitors that we get are for Special Ex or these temporary exhibitions.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Another part of the planning process is that we run everything by our exhibition committee, which is made up of board members, and so it’s a volunteer based committee that review all of our special exhibitions to see if it’s something that we want to have in our galleries,
Cliff Duvernois: which
Cliff Duvernois: actually
Cliff Duvernois: brings up
Cliff Duvernois: a good
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Mm-hmm.
Cliff Duvernois: There are so many exhibitions that are going on out there, so many museums doing so many different things. You brought when you were start talking about how you go through and you’re trying to pick out the ones that you know you think would be a good fit for the fia, your mission, this community, all of a sudden I started thinking of the number of times that you’ve said no to an exhibition.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Sure. We have to turn down a lot, and some of that is due frankly, to funding. We can’t afford to have every exhibition that is offered to us. Some of them are very expensive because they take a lot of time and associated costs to organize the exhibition. Sometimes it’s just not available to us. There’s a lot of major exhibitions out there that people say, oh, wouldn’t that be great to come to Flint?
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: And sure, we would love that, but they’re not available because they’re only. Three, three City tour or something, they, they might not be available to us. The other aspect of this is schedule, because even if we had the money and we had the availability, it might not fit our schedule because we already had booked something two years ago.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: We, so there’s a lot of variables that go into it, and sometimes it’s just a matter of the right place at the right time and having everything aligned just so perfectly Now. Museums in including us, often organize our own exhibitions. So this kinda gives us a little bit more control over the subject matter and the when and the cost.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: But those can be expensive as well, just because if they’re often involving loans that require shipping and that can be expensive, especially nowadays with field prices and, and labor shortages that are just a reality of life now and, and kind. Raise the prices for these kind of exhibitions.
Cliff Duvernois: Now, if somebody were coming here for the first time, what would be an exhibit or maybe uh, two exhibits or something that you would say, you know, if you’re gonna come
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: yeah,
Cliff Duvernois: here’s
Cliff Duvernois: something
Cliff Duvernois: you should take a look at.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Sure I would pick two things. I would pick our bra gallery, that is our gallery that features the Renaissance and Baroque artwork. And it features 10 tapestries that you cannot see anywhere in the world cuz there was only 10 of this subject matter, there’s only one set of 10 ever made. So it is something that is unique to the world and unique to Flint and it’s always on view. We don’t ever de-install that gallery. And it’s just an interesting place to walk into. You feel like you’re going back in time to the Renaissance. The second thing I would say is our contemporary craft wing, because again, it’s something that is pretty unique for our area, uh, in terms of the amount of.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Glass and ceramics that you can see at one time. It’s beautifully installed and it’s a place that feels very serene, and everyone that tells me that that comes to visit us says it’s one of their favorite galleries because it is so
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: relaxing and kind of a reflective place to be.
Cliff Duvernois: Wonderful.
Cliff Duvernois: And
Cliff Duvernois: Tracy, if somebody’s listening to this interview and they do want to check out
Cliff Duvernois: the
Cliff Duvernois: fia, what would be, what would be the
Cliff Duvernois: best way
Cliff Duvernois: to connect
Cliff Duvernois: with
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: you?
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Sure. Tell
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: us
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Sure. Well, we’re located in the heart of the Flint Cultural Center, which is on East Kiley Street. We’re right next door, the Flint, the Long Way Planetarium across from Sloan Museum of Discovery and right next door to the Flint Public Libraries.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: So we’re right in this heart of the cultural center. Lots of always available parking here, which, and it’s free. That’s something that when I hear from people in Detroit,
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: they’re
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: always like amazed that you don’t have to pay
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: for parking. So free parking and we are open seven days a week and free on Saturdays thanks to Huntington Bank.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: So it, whether you live in the county or not, you can get in free on Saturday if you are in Genesee County, we are free every day for Genesee County residents as part of the Arts enrichment culture millage that was passed. A few years ago, the phone number, if people want to call and have any questions, is 8 1 0 2 3 4 1 6 9 5, or you can go to flint arts.org.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: We’ll also have all of our information about what’s, what exhibitions are on, what. Amenities. We have, we have a cafe here that serves amazing sandwiches and soups that are all made from scratch. And we also have, uh, a wonderful museum shop. So we have lots of things, fun things to do. Oh, I should, I can’t, I can’t neglect mentioning that On Saturdays and Sundays, things to McLaren Healthcare, we have free live.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: Glass blowing demonstrations on the hour and it’s so much fun to watch how glass is made. And then you can go into the glass gallery and see how artists have interpreted the subject of glass. So it’s quite a fun thing to be able to do both of those in just one place.
Cliff Duvernois: And for our audience, we will have all those links in the show notes down below. Tracy, it’s been absolute pleasure talking with you today and learning a lot more about the fii. So our fia, excuse me. So,
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: thank you for
Cliff Duvernois: letting me come in here and, uh, and ask you all these questions.
Cliff Duvernois: So thank you again.
Tracee Glab, Flint Institute of Art: It’s my pleasure. Anytime. Thank you.