Art Outdoors and In: Alison Gibbs and the Ogunquit Museum of American Art

by Serena Wong

The Ogunquit Museum of American Art (OMAA) in Ogunquit, Maine, is both a nature and art lover’s paradise. It has almost three acres of outdoor art directly along the seashores, as well as an indoor museum showcasing over 3,000 pieces of artwork, plus rotating temporary exhibitions of contemporary American art.

OMAA isn’t just a beautiful setting in which to view art, but a provider of arts programming that helps audiences of all ages have deeper arts experiences. The museum has a wide variety of programs, including Totally Tuesdays, where a guest artist speaks at the museum about their work being currently featured. The OMAA also has a number of outreach programs for kids including Stories by the Sea, which invites children to come listen to a local artist who’s published a book, afterwards participating in a small art project; and Picture This, which brings a small piece of the museum to Maine public schools, teaching them about an art piece before embarking on a small art project, followed up by a field trip to the museum.

Visitors to OMAA and Ogunquit have undoubtedly seen advertising for the museum, masterminded by AES Alum Alison Gibbs, the Marketing and External Relations Director at the museum. Not only does she put her heart and soul into marketing the museum, she makes sure that the museum always has new programming to offer, whether it be a guest lecturer for Totally Tuesdays  or an outreach program to public schools.

“When you work at a small nonprofit arts organization, you wear a lot of hats!” Alison laughs. “I'm basically a one-person marketing operation at the museum. It's everything from all of our social media outlets to all of our advertising, plus relations with different partner organizations. I also do all of the press and all of the press releases for our exhibitions.”

After turning away from corporate life as a marketing and communications consultant for the government, Alison decided to take her career in a direction that she’d always dreamed. "I thought at some point, ‘If I get to the end of my career and I'm doing this corporate thing, am I gonna feel fulfilled?’” she asked herself. “‘Maybe I can take my skillset and do what I've always wanted to do in the visual arts field.”

"I love thinking about visual arts, and I love having that as part of my job,” Alison grins. “I love looking at pictures and deciding what's going to resonate with our audience or new audiences. It's so fulfilling for me to learn about visual arts - and I love the people - everyone is at OMAA for the same reason. Everyone from our docents to our executive director has a passion for the arts."

In order to prepare herself better for her career in the nonprofit arts world, Alison discovered the Arts Extension Service and the courses it had to offer. "I was looking for a cost-effective, easy way to pick up knowledge about nonprofit organizations,” Alison explains, having had previous marketing experience in a more corporate setting. “I figured if I just went to an art museum and said ‘I want to do this’, they wouldn't get it. The classes were helpful to show my interest and beef up my skill set for a nonprofit arts setting.

Alison obtained a Core Certificate in Arts Management while continuing to work for a government firm. While she chose four classes to complete the program - Grantwriting for the Arts, Financial Management in the Arts, Arts Marketing, and Introduction to Arts Management- Financial Management and Arts Marketing were her favorites.

“In particular, Arts Marketing helped me think through my marketing plan at OMAA. I actually used my template from that class for the museum's marketing plan that year. Over the past few years, it has held up pretty well and I still use it!” Alison says. “The same goes for Financial Management - it was really helpful for me because budgets hadn't been part of my previous job, so when I did sit down and do it, I had a great idea of what I was doing because I'd just taken the class.”

The classes are what have allowed Alison to wear all of the hats of her job, including being responsible for membership. “The AES courses give a general perspective on what the arts management world is about,” she explains. “I think it’s interesting to think about it in a way that’s being used to convince audiences.”

Allison would absolutely recommend AES courses to curious students, but advises they be strategic in what they choose to take. “Be pragmatic about it,” Alison advises. “Understand what you’re pursuing and what you’re looking to get out of it; you need to be smart about the courses you pick, so you can use them to know the nuts and bolts that most apply to area of arts management you are interested in working in.”

With the variety of Allison’s work at the museum, she was a part of determining the 2018 season, which you can view here. The museum has big plans for this season and beyond. “In addition to taking a closer look at more modern artists and their literary counterparts, we're going to introduce a ‘poets and writers series’ where we invite contemporary authors to speak about their work,” Alison says. “There are going to be different ways we use the museum space, too. Maybe for a toddler's space, or for a film series...either way, they're certainly exciting plans for the future."

While the museum’s future plans have been determined, Allison’s own plans have not. “I could be the deputy director of a small museum, but I’m just as happy doing marketing here at the museum or at a bigger museum."