Sketch 2: a portrait, "The Mona Julia"
As soon as Marciari-Alexander moved into her new office, she replaced Vikan's commanding wooden desk with one used by Henry Walters — smaller, gilded and with exposed Queen Anne legs.
At 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Marciari-Alexander is seated behind the French desk, a shoe dangling from one foot as she talks to Walters trustee Rosalee Davison about a tea they may throw for donors. Marciari-Alexander mentions one couple who recently did the museum a big favor by helping with a future exhibit.
"I'm the new girl in town, and I'd like to develop my own close relationship with them," she says. "It's not so much about bringing them back into the fold – they're already in the fold – but in igniting a new interest in the museum."
Nine-year-old Jack teases his mom that she refers to everyone she meets as "friend," whether Marciari-Alexander is referring to the mayor or a store clerk.
Of course, no one likes everybody, and Marciari-Alexander is no push-over. But she absorbed leadership lessons from her father, the former president of California's Pomona College and who was instrumental in integrating the Rhodes Scholarships. She begins relationships by assuming they'll go smoothly and be mutually beneficial. It's up to the other person to prove her wrong.
In person, Marciari-Alexander brings to mind a Valkyrie. She's 6' tall with long blond hair, blue eyes and a confident stride. One day she wears flats, and another day, wedge sandals with three-inch heels. She neither tries to minimize her height nor to emphasize it: It's just a fact, part of who she is.
Her physical presence is so striking that someone meeting the director for the first time must make a conscious effort to ignore her looks and concentrate on what she's saying. The upside for her is she's not easily forgotten.
Derrick Cartwright was Marciari-Alexander's boss at the San Diego Museum of Art. He remembers bringing his deputy curator to a meeting in a poor, mixed-race neighborhood during her first week on the job.
"It's a risk bringing new colleagues into that environment and expecting them to perform," Cartwright says. "There's a lot of legitimate frustration in the community that museum officials only go out once to make an appearance. But Julia kept coming back. She made a commitment to building trust."
Over time, a community center was constructed. Marciari-Alexander found a donor who footed the bill to make one room climate-controlled to museum standards. She persuaded the San Diego museum to lend about ten artworks to the community center for six to eight months.
It's possible the Walters could launch a similar initiative here and lend some treasures to Baltimore community centers. But Marciari-Alexander doesn't believe in opening an off-site, satellite museum. The goal of any outreach program, she says, will be to lure new visitors into the Walters.
"We will track how many people these programs bring through our doors," she says. "It's all about the museum."
Sketch 3: a still life, "Re-imagining the Permanent Collection"
At 4 p.m. Wednesday, Marciari-Alexander strolls through the museum with her husband and the twins. She shows Jack the sweat hole at the chin of a Samurai helmet from the 18th or 19th century. Beatrice, known as Bebe, pulls her mother toward a display of elaborate hairpins.
Marciari-Alexander tries to walk through some portion of the museum every day. "What do you like best?" she asks people she meets in the galleries. "What do you like least? How could we make this more interesting for you?"
When Marciari-Alexander's appointment was announced, one detail leaped out at the museum staff — her scholarly background is in British art. Marciari-Alexander is the first non-medievalist to head up the museum since 1965.
That might seem trivial. But as Mintz put it:
"These worlds are very specific and they attract people with particular temperaments."
Medievalists tend to be very serious, but they're deeply invested in social culture," he says. "Usually they don't know who the artist was, so they create installations showing how objects were used. British European curators are very concerned with pedigree and provenance."