A Space in Time with Tweed Director Ken Bloom

Ed Newman

Ken Bloom, director of the Tweed Museum of Art, is an articulate spokesperson for the arts. Bloom brings more than art knowledge to bear on his role at the Tweed. His extensive background includes career experiences from New York to Asia to North Carolina, Texas and Colorado. Global in his thinking he is keenly attuned to the Tweed’s singular opportunities and responsibilities.

EN: I vaguely recall it being said that there are only five museums like the Tweed. What is the Tweed museum’s uniqueness?

Ken Bloom: There are many college galleries and museums. And many of the ‘museums’ are little more than galleries, while some of the ‘galleries’ are actually more like museums with collections. The constellation of college and University venues are rich and varied depending on the level of support from their administration, relative autonomy, mission (whether in service to campus and/or community), nature of collections (if any), configuration of public/private financial support, and administrative structure within the college or University system. On that conditional ground it is easier to distinguish the Tweed  among others on the basis on how the Museum was founded by a private donor, Alice Tweed Tuohy, with a substantial collection; it’s originating emphatic purpose to serve the students and community, its growing role in the field of American Indian Arts, the presence of a notable ceramics collection that was originated by one of the Nation’s leading ‘fathers’ of studio ceramics, Glenn Nelson;  its relative size and scope in the context of a small town and University, and its extraordinary history of innovative programming involving stellar examples of major art movement moments of the 60s, 70s, through today. And it has, of course had its ups and downs...

EN: What is your favorite part of the collection?

KB: This is an oft asked question. Curiously, my response is consistently changeable. I wouldn’t say that any one area is a favorite so much as there are ideas and executions that interest me. In this way my feelings are consistent with the nature of the overall collection which is broad-based, and intended as a teaching resource with examples of aesthetic and material choices. It also serves as much a pictorial social studies archive as a historical time-clock indicating the significance of emergence of voices, by way of artistic expression, that have risen to the surface through the cloud of  convention. By this I refer to considering the collection from the standpoint of how gender, race, and creed are represented, expressed and revealed in art. Art is best as a foil against expectation, as a mirror of the imagination, and as a means to revealing the phenomena of our world we would otherwise never see.

EN: Why are museums like this important to maintain?

KB: I believe that our collective humanity is in many ways already perfect. It’s just that people suffer individually the service of attaining peace, prosperity, and attaining a natural state of being. No means of communication is any more able to delve as deeply into the soul of humankind than the arts. No other means of manufacture is able to attain the level of variety, complexity, and innovation in spirit and form than the creative mind. No other devices are cable of the intrinsic representation of our sentience and adaptability than the products of the free mind. In its perfect state art is anything but perfect, but being protected and studied and encountered in the museum protects the discoveries of past, present and future. The Museum stands as the best chance to preserve and deploy the objects and ideas that are fundamental in the assertion of our civilization, spirit and character. They are also great places to settle in and quietly find peace of mind.

EN: A lot of people don’t realize how richly the Native culture contributes to our regional arts scene. Can you elaborate on what you see happening here?

KB: I think of the emergence of the Native artists as indicative of a cultural renaissance.  It stemmed from a number of forces, not the least of which was the consciousness-raising era of the late 60’s. And it was certainly accelerated by the activities of the American Indian Movement in the 1970s with its political militancy that forced Natives and non-Natives alike to identify with or reject its agenda. The height of such a challenge to addressing both plight and demand was crystalized by the 71-day Wounded Knee takeover in 1973 after Lakota elders contacted AIM for assistance in dealing with corruption within the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the tribal council. After battling with Federal Officers, what followed became one of the longest trials in U.S. history.  The spirit of resistance and cultural rediscovery began to be seen, not without internal controversy, spreading throughout American indigenous communities, particularly among the Ojibwe. Minnesota is and has been a ground zero for native political action and cultural rebirth.

As a cultural movement, it encompasses dedicated attempts to encourage and support the flowering of Native language(s) and literature, a respect for the oral traditions, and a strong sense that history must be told by indigenous sources that can better represent the story of the Native experience, and not least of which is an emphasis on educational reform.  Literature and art have become strategic devices in the path to reforming identity.  

To recognize the rebirth of a cultural movement is to recognize a profoundly different perspective on the history and past behavior of our country. To accept and engage with indigenous voices requires a complete rethinking of the intellectual and social life of the cultural mainstream by introducing perspectives on human relation to nature, social policy, industrialization, respect for elders, the allegories and stories of the origin of species, and the vast toll taken upon the Indian nations by American expansion and religious persecution.  

EN: So, why is it important for American Indian arts and culture to be recognized for its contributions and its perspective?

KB: Because we all have plenty to learn, to remember, to forgive and to be thankful for. Our state and nation’s Native artists, writers and scholars are sharing their rich well of knowledge, humanity and vision in the best interests of all of us.