Beth Levinthal, Executive Director of the Hofstra University Museum, brings sophisticated art to the people of Long Island, and she’s been doing this for nearly thirty years at various venues throughout the region. With her sunny disposition and a voice that sounds as if she cares infinitely about the power of art and the people it moves, Ms. Levinthal has provided a clear mission: “I want to connect the arts to the people and to our cultural heritage.”
It began in 1987 when she joined the Art League of Long Island as an arts educator and the public programs coordinator for children. “I was aware of what art had done for me, the positive experience it offers, and I’ve always wanted others to take part in that same experience,” she remembered.
In 1994, she joined the staff of the Heckscher Museum of Art and subsequently became Executive Director from 2000-2006. “There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a child or some community resident come to an exhibit and leave with a fresh perspective. You can literally see their faces change. And we want to be able to bring that same gift to as many people as we can.”
When Ms. Levinthal joined Hofstra University in the summer of 2006, she brought that same optimistic message, and this authentic enthusiasm and clear vision quickly caught on within the surrounding community. Initially, upon her arrival, there were only 1,100 visitors to the Hofstra Museum, while this past year the museum boasted a staggering 24,000 attendees, comprising both students and the neighboring public. “Our exhibits come from our permanent collection, which consists of 5,000 works from across the globe, some of which dates back as early as 5000 BC, as well as pieces by contemporary artists who demonstrate historical or cultural significance, and subjects that are relevant and educational.”
With the US economic downturn in recent years, it’s hopeful to see museum attendance continue to grow despite shrinking funds and grant donations. “We’re affected by it like everyone else. We seek some of our funds from corporations, banks, and many others, and we’ve been fortunate to get various grants, but still there’s just less coming in unfortunately. It’s just these lean times we live in, and so it impacts how we approach our exhibition planning. Now I suppose we just have to be more creative in how we implement our budget.”
Ms. Levinthal and her team put forth their imaginative efforts year round, having to plan two years in advance to shape their shows. “Our team works tirelessly to put together an exhibit that tells an engaging story, while making use of the gallery space in a way that people will appreciate the narrative you’re presenting. Sometimes that means staying relevant whether culturally, politically, or even incorporating some of the newer technology by hosting iPod tours, or providing digital kiosks with QR codes that are interactive with cell phones and the exhibit.”
Even after thirty solid years in the art world, Ms. Levinthal doesn’t seem to be decelerating. Her focus of bringing art to the people is still at the forefront of her imagination. “We all come to art with different experiences, but it’s the message that unites us.”