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Ann Wolfe '99 Art History

Ann Wolfe is senior curator and deputy director of the Nevada Museum of Art. She and her husband, Allen Murray, and their two young boys, live in Reno. Prof. Kathleen Maxwell caught up with Ann in a phone interview in early February.

Like many first-year students, Ann arrived at Santa Clara with a broad range of interests, but no clear idea of which major she wanted to pursue. Santa Clara’s small classes and welcoming and nurturing environment had much appeal for Ann, who was raised on her family’s apricot farm in nearby Brentwood, California.

The interdisciplinarity of the art history major and the Medieval and Renaissance Studies minor at Santa Clara attracted Ann. It wasn’t until the second half of her junior year, however, that she discovered the de Saisset Museum on campus.  She applied for a job and was hired as a security guard. Several months later Ann was promoted to curatorial assistant for JoAnne Northrup, then curator at the de Saisset. There began a friendship and professional partnership that remains firmly in place today.

After graduation, Ann served as a substitute teacher for a year and began to contemplate graduate school in art history. Northrup encouraged her to look at University of Southern California’s graduate program in Museum Studies from which she herself had graduated. USC’s program offered advanced courses in art history as well as practical training in museum work, including fundraising, marketing, and curatorial practice. Ann received a generous fellowship and enrolled. On Ann’s last day of class, Northrup, who was by now curator at the San Jose Museum of Art, offered Ann a position as assistant curator. Ann worked at SJMA for four years before moving to Reno as curator of exhibitions and collections at the Nevada Museum of Art. In 2011 she was promoted to senior curator and deputy director. In 2012, Northrup joined the staff there as Director of Contemporary Art Initiatives.

In her ten years at the Nevada Museum of Art, Ann has overseen 135 exhibitions and written twelve books. Her most recent is an impressively comprehensive catalog for the exhibit entitled “Tahoe: A Visual History,” which was published in September 2015 and is already in its second printing. This work, her third book published by Skira Rizzoli, includes contributions by the likes of Kevin Starr and features 400 works related to the Tahoe/Donner region by 125 different artists. This exhibit occupied all 15,000 square feet of exhibition space at the Nevada Museum of Art and was more than four years in the making.

Ann attributes her success to her extensive network of colleagues. Building a network essentially consists of forming relationships with a wide variety of individuals. She acknowledges that this is hard for undergraduates to accomplish, but says the process began as soon as she started securing internships, some of which were only part time, short term, and unpaid. Internships are also very helpful for learning about the many different types of opportunities in the museum world. These include education, marketing, and fundraising, in addition to curatorial positions and project management.

Ann also encouraged those interested in pursuing museum careers not to overlook smaller venues, as they may actually offer more opportunities than larger institutions. The Palo Alto Arts Center was one example of a smaller venue that Ann named; many art history majors from Santa Clara have interned there over the years.

Finally, Ann noted that who we are is dependent on our roots. The values and work ethic with which you were raised largely determines your drive and your desire for excellence.  Build your networks on relationships based upon respect and trust, she urged, and the cards will eventually fall into place.

Alumni Story