Power of Art

Cameron Art Museum forges a path forward under its new director

7b0682bf 4e64 4893 A123 2dcbd7963740The Cameron Art Museum (CAM) board of trustees unanimously named HEATHER WILSON as the museum’s executive director in June. “The human connection we foster between people and art is what excites me the most,” Wilson says about her new role.

Wilson, a member of the staff for 16 years, is no stranger to CAM. Starting in 2006 in development, she became deputy director in 2019. During those years, she led a needs assessment for CAM’s programming and oversaw its diversity and equity inclusion initiatives.

Originally from Salisbury, North Carolina, Wilson moved to Wilmington from Boston to pursue her master’s degree in fine arts in creative writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she co-founded the nationally known literary journal Ecotone. Pulling from past education and experience, Wilson continues to grow CAM’s scope beyond visual arts through multi-disciplinary programming that connects to the art on display. “We explore the cross pollination between the arts including music, poetry, dance and theater,” she says.

Diversity and equity inclusion, a focus spearheaded by Wilson during her days as deputy director, continues to be a huge priority for CAM. An education committee comprised of community representatives informs programming. “We work closely with partner organizations and schools in the eight county area we serve to make sure our programs are relevant to as many members of the population as possible,” Wilson says. “Our free professional development workshops instruct teachers how to use the arts to teach writing, science and math. Studies show that this method of teaching brings all learners to the table and is helpful in addressing the achievement gap.”

An accessibility committee also guides CAM’s goals. “My vision is to be a truly accessible and inclusive museum for all while remaining dedicated to high-quality art,” Wilson says. She is actively working on an accessibility plan that includes American Sign Language tours, sensory-friendly accommodations, Spanish language tours, and tours for people with disabilities. CAM’s program for cancer patients includes free museum admission plus art-making and writing classes. CAM’s Connections program offers guided tours for dementia patients and their caregivers, a program that has been mimicked at museums across the country. CAM also provides outreach to reduce barriers to access including free transportation and free admission to under-served populations and scholarships for children from the Wilmington Housing Authority for summer camps.

Wilson says CAM continues to honor its past while moving into the future. “The current exhibition, ‘Love,’ explores this emotion through contemporary art that is sometimes surprising, moving and fierce,” she says. In November, CAM opens “Monument” featuring work by Sonya Clark, Stephen Hayes, and Kara Walker. In February, “The Work of Their Hands” explores the evolution of quilt-making. April brings the work of renowned North Carolina artist Thomas Sayre.

Funding is CAM’s greatest challenge as the museum is a community-funded organization with no umbrella institution. “But we’re up for it,” says Wilson. “Fundraising will be a major focus of my tenure. Visitors who eat in our café or shop in our shop are supporting the larger work of the museum. Telling that story is a huge priority,” she adds. Wilson has procured many grants for CAM during her tenure including grants from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, Institute of Museum and Library Services, and PNC Bank.

“I’ve seen a lot of really positive change at the museum during my tenure including a real dedication to serving all aspects of our community,” says Wilson. “Art is a great connector. It brings people together. It inspires empathy, compassion and dialogue. I love the museum. I love our collection and our educational mission.”

To view more of photographer Stephanie Savas’ work, go to stephaniesavasphotography.com.

Want more WILMA? Click here to sign up for our WILMA newsletters and announcements.

Categories: Culture