Grisha Bruskin, H-Hour, 2013
American: When you came to Washington to direct and curate this new museum eight years ago, how did you begin? Rasmussen: I was allowed a tremendous amount of freedom. The challenge was to figure out a way the museum could be relevant to the university and to Washington. It was a real opportunity to look at what was needed in the city, what was not being done in the city, and how we could reinforce the strengths that the university already offered.
What did you discover? Museums were not showing Washington art except on very rare occasions. For me, having worked in community-based organizations, it’s important to have local artists on your side. They support you, they talk to their friends, the friends come, and all this makes it possible to have a scene people want to participate in.
The political aspect—or its lack. The Smithsonian couldn’t show political art. The Corcoran [Gallery of Art] had burned its fingers on it. We were in the unique position of being part of an academic institution with academic freedom of speech. Also, the university emphasizes students’ political involvement. That broader university focus worked nicely with that side of our programming.
Building awareness of the museum in the city was important. What else struck you?
Washington is also an international city. How did you plan to respond to that? Let’s talk #americanmag 23