Museum Director Is Not Licking Her Wounds

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hotchner moving forward after lollipop building uproar

by mirva lempiainen

holly hotchner credits being selected for a westy award with the fact that she managed to do the impossible. two years ago, she and her team breathed new life into the so-called "lollipop building" at two columbus circle, turning it into the home of the museum of arts and design.

"we succeeded where no one else did," said hotchner, the director of the museum. the building, which first opened in 1964 and housed the gallery of modern art, was vacant for a number of years before the mad moved in.

before relocating its exhibits and programs to columbus circle, the mad had the original edward durell stone building completely renovated and redesigned. a glass façade replaced the white marble exterior. its signature lollipop-shaped arches in the bottom part were left intact, though, with the exception of one.

hotchner, 59, said that the museum took a "defunct site" and an "eyesore" of a building and transformed it into a "tremendously successful" museum. the move tripled the museum's space for exhibitions, public programming and education outreach.

the museum showcases "objects that document contemporary and historic innovation in craft, art, and design," according to its mission statement. it was founded in 1956 and was known as the american craft museum until 2002.

"we had a vision of what we could do. we made it happen against all odds," hotchner said, referring to the rampant controversy that surrounded the lollipop building for years.

upper west siders are one of the largest demographics among the museum's 500,000 annual visitors. that's ironic, hotchner said, as landmarks west was one of the biggest opponents of the museum moving into the neighborhood.

others included author tom wolfe, columbia art history department chairman barry bergdoll and nicolai ouroussoff, the new york times' architecture critic.

despite getting off to a rocky start, the museum has successfully made columbus circle its home. some 60 percent of the visitors are local residents.

"it's hard to get new yorkers to go to museums more than once," hotchner said. "we're thrilled."

prior to joining the design museum in 1996, hotchner held positions at the hirshhorn museum in washington, d.c., and the tate gallery in london, and was a painting conservation fellow at the metropolitan museum of art.

altogether, hotchner has about 25 years of experience as a museum director, as well as a master's degree in art history from new york university. she is also an elected member of the american association of museum directors, and a board member of the new york landmarks conservancy.

"i was always interested in the arts," said hotchner, whose father is writer a.e. hotchner. "i've given my life to the enrichment of new york."

besides arts, hotchner is an advisory board member of visionspring, a non-profit social enterprise that addresses blindness in developing countries. the organization enables individuals to sell eyeglasses to others who are in need.

"it's a fantastic cause, " said hotchner.

for now, the mad and its future remain hotchner's main priority. considering the museum's tumultuous entry to the upper west side, the westy award means all the more for the museum's director.

"i was very surprised," hotchner said. "i think it's great that the museum is recognized."

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