Andrew Saluti is assistant professor and program coordinator of the Graduate Program in Museum Studies at Syracuse University. Before joining the faculty of the School of Design, Saluti was the chief curator of exhibitions, programs, and education for the Special Collections Research Center at Syracuse University Libraries (2016-17), and the assistant director of the Syracuse University Art Galleries and Collections (2010-2016).
Andrew collaborates with the diverse community voices and cultural heritage collecting institutions that populate both academic and professional sectors of the Central New York region. Together with colleagues, faculty, and students, Andrew considers equity, inclusivity, and accessibility core and vital aspects to museum practice and pedagogy. This commitment is reflected in the broad scope of teaching, mentoring, curricular design and professional practice that he facilitates, as well as through an ever-expanding network of emerging and established museum professionals from around the globe. He is an active member of numerous museum boards and advisory committees, including Vice President of the Board for the Seward House Museum.
We spoke with Andrew to learn more about his career path, his advice to the next generation of museum professionals, and what he’s learned throughout his career in the museum field.
Can you tell us about your journey to becoming an Assistant Professor at SU’s Museums Studies Program Coordinator?
I’ve been very active on the Syracuse University campus in a variety of different capacities within their collections and within academic collections. I have also been teaching in Museum studies for the past 6 years as a full time faculty member. Before that I worked at the Syracuse University Art Museum for 14 years, working my way up to the role of assistant director.
My background and degree are in printmaking. Syracuse University Art Museum’s collection has a very direct focus on works on paper. When I started I was a preparator. It was a job I loved. I was doing a lot of the installation work, and gradually moving up as the institution grew. I would also dive into other things. I have a little background in design work, so then exhibition design became one of my responsibilities. I later did more curatorial work, especially with the print collection and took on more of a leadership role at the Museum. Until 2017, I worked closely with the Director of Special Collections, a new position was created within special collections, and I was promoted to Chief Curator of Exhibitions. I was able to be the guiding voice, directing the curatorial staff, and developing a vision for special collections exhibitions. Through my research at the Syracuse University Special Collections Research Center we found some very exciting things including a previously unknown Norman Rockwell drawing.
Then my previous colleague and mentor, who was running the museum studies program retired. I decided that I would put my name in for the position not thinking that I would be hired but I was. I had been working in collections since 2002 and now took on the role of guiding the next generation of museum professionals.
What other experiences in your career have you found most helpful for your role now?
Even before becoming a faculty member, I was very active in museum governance. I was previously on the MANY board in 2015 which was my first time ever on a major non-profit board. I found it very fulfilling and went on to join the Seward House Museum board. I’m currently their Vice President. I’m also on the board of the Light Work Photography Center and now I’ve been able to rejoin the MANY board of directors. I’m also very active in an advisory capacity to other art institutions including Stone Quarry Hill Art Park in Cazenovia.
I have learned so much and really get excited about the importance of board work, especially with governance work. It’s found its way into my teaching quite a bit…including in classes like museum management and advocacy where we discuss the relationship between a director and board. I think it’s important and I get excited to share the experiences from my own board work with students who usually have not yet had that perspective.
What are some of the biggest motivations to do what you do?
As a teacher, it is all about students. It's about training that future generation, and it’s not always easy. It’s a challenging field but when you can inspire someone, teach them something that they can take into their first museum job or help open the door to an internship or new position it is really rewarding. There is a whole new landscape now for museum work, a whole new series of best practices, and new challenges that museum professionals are going to face. I really like being a part of that. I really do.
What advice would you give to the next generation of museum professionals to know about entering the field?
I think how fast the landscape is changing for museums.. The biggest thing is to always be learning and to not get stuck. It can be easy to get into that automatic mode of ok this needs to happen today…this exhibition opens here, or this inventory has to happen here, or these objects need to be prepped, and you just get into that rhythm where your head is down and you’re getting it done. I want my students and others to have that space to keep thinking and asking questions. Is there a better way? Is there a new innovation? Is there something that I can bring to this? One of the things that I’m really proud of is that we don’t only teach the hard skills and soft skills that are core to our program but we’re also thinking about what could change. What else is happening? What can the next generation of museum professionals bring to the field?
That is something that I think is important for any museum professional especially in 2023. There are a whole host of new opportunities, challenges, and tools. You have to remain open and be a lifelong learner. I don’t want to speak for everybody but it’s kind of built into our field, investing in our own professional development. Especially when we’re telling stories through objects or creating a program that gives new context. We, as a field, need to constantly explore and learn in order to meet the challenges of the next century. We need to think broadly and creatively.
Would your 18-year-old self imagine that you would be where you are today?
No. My path, like so many others in the field, was very circuitous. I was going to go to art school, and I didn't know what I was going to do with my degree, but it's what I was always passionate about. I went to school to study industrial design but within the first few weeks I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do. Then I attended a lecture in the printmaking department about making books. I found myself really enjoying watching and learning this very technical thing. But then I had thoughts about my future. I thought well if I’m going to be in the arts, I’ll be an artist but I also wanted to teach. Which made sense since I come from a family of teachers. I chose LSU for my MFA because I knew that they were going to commit to rigorousteaching that included an assistantship with the program which excited me. I wanted to hone teaching skills along with my art making skills. From there I started doing a lot of gallery work, and I started to really like the process of building an exhibition and telling a story that way. I'm not an art historian. I may have taken art history, obviously, but that is not my that is not my background. That is not my skill. But I learned a lot going through that process during graduate school and that’s where I realized that I really love doing this. So I went on to be a preparator in a collection and worked my way from there.
Can you tell us about where you grew up and what was it like growing up there?
I’m from New England and I grew up on Cape Cod. I grew up in a town called Sandwich. It’s the oldest town on Cape Cod. Growing up, I didn't go to a lot of museums, but I was always very good at art, and that was really my passion growing up. My entire family was from the Boston area, and they were all teachers. I would go to the MFA Boston.
I really loved a lot of the local history centers. We have a wonderful glass museum in my hometown of Sandwich. Every time we go to the Corning Museum of Glass, I always point it out to my kids –you know that’s Sandwich glass right there. It's always present. It's always there. That idea of history, that idea of longevity and being able to live through history while you're growing up, in retrospect, was really influential. You don't notice it as a 16 year old, but you know that was really that had a lot of impact on me.
Can you describe a favorite day on the job?
I've been very lucky that in 2008 I was a part of the small team that organized the Michelangelo exhibition that came to Syracuse. This was curated specifically for Syracuse, and I designed that entire exhibition. It was that kind of holistic experience of what you hope this job is always going to be about. Yes, of course I'm going to go to Italy and get my inspiration for the exhibition and then come back and you see it realized in the museum space. It was a massive success and it started the Art Museum on campus on the path to where it is to today. It was one of those groundbreaking experiences.
I’ve also had the opportunity to curate and to meet with quite a few people who have become really influential friends.
There's a print shop on Long island called Universal Limited Art Editions, and I got very close, very active with them, especially with their master printer, Bill Goldston, and I did a couple of exhibitions with Bill. That's been a really important and impactful experience for me. I learned a lot about leadership and the importance of collaborations.
Then there are those situations where you can bring students into the experience. I’d been working for a long time trying to write the catalogue for the artist Louisa Chase, who passed away in 2016. She was an SU alum, and was somebody I followed and started to work with over 10 years ago when we did a small exhibition in New York City. I had students writing labels and doing research. We brought them down to the reception, and we went to the IFPDA Print Fair in New York City. It was a moment where they could see how the research and label writing all came together to create this exhibition. It was definitely a ‘this is why I do this’ moment.
Has there been anyone who you’ve seen as a mentor in your career? If yes, can you share one piece of advice they gave you?
There have been two important mentors in my career.
The first is my predecessor in the Museum Studies program. He was the faculty member who ran the program since the eighties. His name was Dr. Edward Akin, or Teddy Akin. And what has always stuck with me that he said was that you do all this work, you invest yourself within a collection or a museum, but it's not yours. And he told me to remember that it's not yours. You are handing it off to the next director, to the next generation, to the next student and to the next. It was a little thing at the time, but it was actually he was helping me decide whether or not I wanted to continue at SU. He said, just remember that you do all of this work, and you pour yourself into your museum and your job, but it's not yours. It's for someone else, and that small nugget has stayed with me throughout my entire career. It was a really important conversation, because it changes the way you approach things, it changes the way you invest in the project or invest in what you're doing, but it definitely changes it.
The other person who was really influential was my first boss, the first director of the SU Art Museum, Domenic Iacono who is a print specialist. He really shepherded me and taught me the ropes of curatorship and managing a collection and museum space.
Why do you like living and working in Syracuse? And why do you think it might be important for museum professionals to attend the MANY conference?
Syracuse is central and if you think about the history of Syracuse, you think about the Erie Canal being that central hub. We are rich with history. We are rich with creativity and innovation, and there's a wonderful community of people. One of the things that we're working on right now is a small exhibition that talks about Syracuse as a sanctuary. Syracuse is that place where people came historically to find their way, and I think that's a concept you'll see in our institutions like the Everson or the Erie Canal Museum.
There’s so much to do and to see. It's rich with history. It's rich with the arts, and I think that anybody who comes to the MANY annual conference in April will see how much Syracuse has to offer.