ALBANY — Although her time with the Albany Museum of Art will soon draw to a close, AMA Executive Director Paula Williams said she is excited about the museum’s future.
“I think this museum is on the right path, and I feel so good about the staff that is in place here,” Williams said days before her tenure as AMA director ends. “They care deeply about the museum ... (and), it shows in what they do and their level of commitment. We’re definitely on the right path, and I know they will continue that.
“That, coupled with the board of trustees in place (is going to be great). Jack Davis is incoming president, and I’m really excited about his vision for the future and a new director. I’ve been lucky that they’ve let me have a look at the candidates, and any of the final candidates that they’re looking at would be fantastic, not only for this museum, but for the community. I see this museum as just being on the cusp of exploding.”
Williams has served as the executive director at the AMA for the past five years, and she also worked as a docent just after the museum opened in September of 1983. She served as executive director for several years then as well.
“I have had a deep love for the museum since it opened,” Williams said. “I was here for the ribbon-cutting.”
While Williams worked as a designer, consultant and a communications consultant between her two stints as AMA executive director, that love for the museum never faded.
Williams and the rest of the staff have worked hard to bring world-class exhibitions to the Albany area and provide great educational programming to go along with it.
One show that Williams remembers fondly was one that showed the work of street artists who painted directly onto the gallery walls.
“My interest was to make this a museum for the community, that everyone felt very comfortable coming to and participating in, making this museum a place where you could go without feeling awkward about being here,” Williams said. “Our job really is to expose people to things that are new.
“It was so exciting, the application of paint and the scissor lift that (the street artists) used. They were really amazing. The feedback that we got from people that came to the exhibit and some of the ancillary programs that we did to go along with that (was great).”
Alongside that show, the museum also had an exhibit of sneakers that was similar to an exhibit at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.
“We were really excited that we could present something equally as interesting, something that you’d go all the way to Atlanta to see,” Williams said.
Williams said she also liked the recent exhibition of artist Masud Olufani’s work that dealt with issues like social injustice, racism and other issues and social constructs.
“That really led to a lot of open discussion, candid discussions, that I always hope that the museum can become a place for,” Williams said. “Museums are considered one of the safest places for some of these difficult conversations, and they are inspired by art and artists. And they’re important, especially in our community.”
During Williams’ time as executive director, the museum has also partnered with the Dougherty County School System and Superintendent Kenneth Dyer to bring all second-graders in the system to the museum at some point during the school year.
“What we have done is aligned school curriculum with our exhibitions and worked with teachers to help make that connection between art and whatever they happen to be studying at the time,” Williams said.
The museum was damaged in the twin tornadoes of January 2017, but that has not stopped AMA from remaining an integral part of the community.
“While the storm was devastating and tragic, there will be some good things to come of this,” Williams said. “We’re limping along in half a building, but we’re doing twice as many programs, and I am really proud of that.”
Williams said museum officials have not forgotten about trying to move downtown, and they have been working toward that since the (2017) storms.
“Since the storm, we have worked really hard to move downtown,” Williams said. “We feel that it is the right thing for the museum to do. It is the right place for the museum to be because there are so many collaborative opportunities.”
Although Williams said she feels good about the possibility of moving downtown, as July 1 draws closer, she is also excited for the new chapter in her life that is about to begin.
She said she is looking forward to spending more time with her family and traveling.
However, her retirement will still involve a close connection with art and museums. She has lined up several consulting gigs, plans to do some contract work with the AMA to help with the transition to a new director and will serve on the peer review board with the American Alliance of Museums to work with other museums participating in the accreditation process.
And maybe, just maybe, she will start painting again.
“I’m inspired every time I go into a museum, and as an artist, although I haven’t been a practicing artist in many many years, it always inspires me to want to go back and do something,” Williams said.
“Who knows, maybe that lies ahead.”
Ultimately, Williams said the idea of retiring from the museum is “bittersweet.”
“I’m excited about what comes next, and at the same time, really sad to be leaving the museum,” she said. “These last five years have been exciting, challenging, fun, rewarding, stressful. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.”