Artspace Director Leaving For Massachusetts

Yash Roy file photo

Lisa Dent: Headed to Mass MoCA.

The head of one of New Haven’s leading downtown art galleries is leaving town for a new museum job in the Berkshires, nearly three years after she first stepped into the Ninth Square role.

During a Tuesday afternoon phone interview with the Independent, Lisa Dent confirmed that she will soon be leaving her job as the executive director of Artspace for a new role as director of public programs and engagement at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA).

Every final day on staff at the 50 Orange St. art gallery will be this Friday.

Dent first took on the role of Artspace’s executive director in April 2020, leaving her job as the artistic director of a Portland, Oregon-based visual arts nonprofit to succeed Artspace’s long-time former director Helen Kauder.

Click here, here, here and here for recent Independent articles about Artspace shows put on during Dent’s tenure. Click here and here for articles about Artspace’s annual Open Source Festival, which Dent started as a re-imagined version of the gallery’s previous Citywide Open Studios annual events.

I decided I needed to leave because I felt that there was consistently no support” from both the local visual artist community and from Artspace’s board around necessary changes” she wanted to make at the Orange Street gallery, Dent told the Independent on Tuesday.

She said she felt like she and her staff — consisting of two full-time employees and three part-time employees — did not get the backing they needed in order to be inclusive in general,” to be equitable around salaries,” and to act on the tenets of the city’s recently adopted Cultural Equity Plan.

Our individual donations in 2022 were extremely low,” Dent added. Any work I was doing on building audience was not welcomed by the artist community, who insisted that we help them sell their work and were less interested in building audience.” She worried that some members of the community wanted Artspace to function more a membership organization instead of as a presenting organization.”

Asked about what she thinks Artspace needs in order to thrive at this moment of leadership transition, Dent said, I was able to bring on an incredible staff. I have so much faith in their abilities and what they’ve brought to how our mission is being inserted into everything we do. I believe they need support.”

Reached by phone on Tuesday afternoon, Artspace Board President Kara Straun thanked Dent for her time leading the Orange Street gallery.

We’re sad to see her go,” Straun said, while praising her vision and talent.”

Asked to respond to some of Dent’s criticisms of Artspace’s board, Straun said that the gallery’s board adopted a new strategic plan” last summer with the goal of becoming a more inclusive institution and realizing some of the goals laid out in the city’s Cultural Equity Plan.

The board is continuing to evolve,” she said. We’re in a place of rolling up our sleeves” and getting to work. She said the board will likely appoint an interim executive director soon after Dent leaves as it searches for a new permanent replacement.

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