Della Watkins arrived from the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond, taking over in 2013 as executive director at the Taubman Museum of Art. Since the she’s been a tireless cheerleader for the museum, working to bring it closer to the community, overseeing changes like the addition of the special exhibitions gallery for touring shows. Now Watkins is moving on to the Columbia Museum of Art in the South Carolina state capitol. She’s excited about a six-million dollar renovation in what used to be a department store. The Taubman is in good shape going forward as the search for a new director begins says Watkins, but leaving Roanoke is “very bittersweet.”
GM: What are you most pleased about during your tenure in Roanoke?
DW: I arrived at a time when the museum had great challenges. [We worked] to get through that experience, to reengage the community and get our finances together. Della Watkins Moving Forward from the Taubman Museum An Interview by Gene Marrano We also put a longer [lead time] on our portfolio for exhibitions.
GM: What challenge are you looking forward to in Columbia? (Watkins said she was not actively seeking another job when it was suggested she submit a resume anyway)
DW: I’m moving to a community that has the need for similar [public] engagement
GM: What about the staff you leave behind at the Taubman?
DW: Each one is talented and passionate and knows their job, does it well. (Deputy Director Cindy Petersen is the interim director during the search process.) It will be seamless.
GM: What lessons did you learn coming from the VMFA (where she left as a deputy director) to the Taubman as the person in charge?
DW: Patience – I didn’t have as large a staff, as many resources. You also learn the value of collaborative partners – your supporters, members, your volunteers. The budgeting had to start with better projections; you can only spend what you earn. When I arrived the museum was under water.
GM: Excited about your future at the Columbia Museum of Art? (about three times as many pieces of art in its collection, double the number of employees says Watkins.)
DW: I really like going into a situation where I can make an impact. This will be the third museum renovation I’ve had a chance to work with. I cannot wait. I’m really passionate about making sure the art museum is a resource.