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Deidre McPherson

Connecting the collection and the community
December 26, 2017

Gregory M. Donley Magazine Staff

Last summer, Deidre McPherson joined the museum as department director of public programs. She arrived from the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA Cleveland), where she served as that organization’s first curator of public programs. The Cleveland Heights native began her career on a different path—with undergraduate and MBA degrees that focused on marketing. After eight years on the East Coast working in advertising and market research, in 2008 McPherson returned to her hometown as marketing manager for the Cleveland Orchestra and later the Council of Smaller Enterprises.

In her spare time, she founded the Cleveland chapter of Sistah Sinema, an organization that brings people together around films by and about LGBTQ women of color. She selected films, organized guest speakers, invited filmmakers, and enlisted the help of sponsors and community partners to build an audience. “The stories and lives of LGBTQ women of color traditionally haven’t been represented in mainstream media,” McPherson says, “so these screening events create a much-needed space for a marginalized community to see themselves represented on film and to converse about the unique challenges and opportunities that arise from our intersecting identities. Organizing these events became my passion project and shaped my career; it’s how I evolved into doing public programs.” That success attracted the attention of MOCA, and after McPherson put together a few Sistah Sinema programs for the newly expanded museum, she was hired in 2014. Last spring, CMA director of education and academic affairs Cyra Levenson approached McPherson to fill a new role overseeing public programs. She took the job.

McPherson grew up studying violin at the Music Settlement, attending performances at Playhouse Square and Karamu House, and taking art classes at the CMA. “I had a lot of access to the arts,” she recalls. “But that isn’t everyone’s experience, and for many people institutions like orchestras and museums can feel unwelcoming and exclusionary.” Public programs, she believes, “are a key factor in helping to reverse that perception, and in realizing the museum’s mission: to create transformative experiences through art, for the benefit of all the people forever. We want to offer a wide variety of programs that ultimately create access to the truth and power of our collection and exhibitions for anyone who might be interested, regardless of their educational, economic, or cultural background,” she says. “Programs like MIX, the Art and Fiction Book Club, meditation in the galleries, and distinguished lectures bring current visitors back, but I’m especially interested in creating programs that connect the museum with audiences we’re not reaching now. To meet diverse needs, we need to listen to diverse perspectives.

“The possibilities to use our collection and our building to create programs that encourage conversation, critical thinking, personal relevance, or experimentation are endless, so I’m thinking about how to generate the right mix,” McPherson continues. “Creating such experiences involves collaboration with local and non-local institutions, cultural partners, community members, and the museum’s staff. I’m thrilled and thankful to have the support and resources to do work that excites me.” 

Cleveand Art, January/February 2018