Ridgefield's Aldrich museum names Amy Smith-Stewart as new chief curator

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum’s newly appointed chief curator Amy Smith-Stewart is having a moment. Fresh on the heels of opening the largest — and one of the most ambitious exhibitions — to be mounted at the Aldrich, which she spent five years planning, she is now shifting gears to a “big picture” curatorial vision.

Last month, she was putting the finishing touches on “52 Artists Now: A Feminist Milestone,” which opened June 4, working hand-in-hand with the museum staff and the artists themselves. In her new role, she will oversee the museum’s curatorial direction. Smith-Stewart joined the museum in downtown Ridgefield nine years ago, first as curator, and most recently working as senior curator. As chief curator, she takes over for Richard Klein, the museum’s head of exhibitions, who retired June 10. Noting the museum’s long history in groundbreaking exhibitions and forward-thinking programs, and supporting underrepresented artists, she said she is excited to now shepherd this work.

“It is a tremendous honor to be the first woman to lead the Aldrich’s exhibitions department. Part of the job of a curator and leading an institution is understanding the mission of the institution and understanding its history,” she said. “ I love the opportunity to be able to continue to do that with an institution that has such a rich and incredible history.”

“For almost ten years, Amy Smith-Stewart has been a central voice in the Aldrich’s exhibition programming, partnering with artists on shows that have captured the attention of our audience and critics alike,” said Cybele Maylone, the Aldrich’s executive director.

The museum focuses on supporting visionary artists at critical points of their careers, Smith-Stewart explained, and she is looking forward to announcing more details in the future. “Next year, we will commence a new artist honoraria initiative and embark on a project to improve and update our campus to increase opportunities for artists and ensure better access for all communities,” she said.

The artists’ honoraria policy launches in 2023 for all projects and exhibitions and is in keeping with the museum’s focus as an artist-centric institution. “The artist is always at the center at the Aldrich. Together, with a creative and collaborative team, we will work to uncover and amplify new and under-recognized voices in the field,” she said. “We all are working for the artist. I think that’s when we make the best possible exhibitions together when they are fully collaborative and the artist feels supported and feels like they can experiment and feel comfortable with the space they are experimenting in and the people they are working with.”

In that vein, the museum launched in April 2021 Aldrich Projects, a single-artist series spotlighting a singular work or focused body of work by an artist, in addition to the long-term larger exhibitions usually presented. These exhibits show how the museum can “be more nimble for our local audiences and also shifting the scale what we do so that our museum is offering change and giving more opportunities to artists, both in the local community where they are being exposed more often and also how we also how we support artists,” she added.

Board chair Diana Bowes said Smith-Stewart has made her mark at the museum with a diverse cadre of shows: “She has soaked up the ethos of the museum and done an incredible job of furthering our mission of providing a platform for emerging artists and under-recognized mid-career artists. She is fearless, has a fresh voice, innate curiosity and a hunger to learn.”