Arts & Humanities Campus News Faculty Spotlight

Georgia Museum of Art director wants everyone to experience art

David Odo is the director of the Georgia Museum of Art. (Photo by Peter Frey/UGA)

David Odo aims to expand the museum’s reach and mission

A visit to an art museum stays with you. Just ask Georgia Museum of Art Director David Odo.

His love of art, and subsequent career as a museum professional, is the result of visiting museums as a child and during college.

“My parents inadvertently got my museum career started by dragging me around museums from the time when I was a young child,” he said last July, during his first month on the job. “I eventually developed into an avid museum visitor of my own accord, especially after taking a required course in art humanities my first year of college.”

Odo has now spent almost a year as the museum’s director. Prior to coming to Georgia, he spent years working at Harvard Art Museums and held multiple positions and fellowships at other prominent museums along the way, but he remains grounded in one basic principle: engagement with art is an enriching experience that everyone should know and enjoy.

Odo’s guiding principle is fitting for his role at the Georgia Museum of Art. Some 75 years ago, Alfred Heber Holbrook founded the museum by donating his own collection of art, in honor of his late wife Eva, with much the same goal, and his legacy and mission persist today. Last year, the museum celebrated 75 years of free inspiration.

Odo aims to further expand the museum’s reach and Holbrook’s founding mission. “What was most striking [about this position] was the potential I saw for deepening the museum’s relationship with the university, especially in terms of student engagement and cross-campus collaborations,” he said. “With a solid foundation to build on, I saw the opportunity to grow these aspects of the museum’s work in innovative ways, and so far, I have been delighted by our progress.”

The big picture goal applies to Georgia residents and other visitors as well.

“I’m looking forward to a time when every student who graduates from UGA leaves campus having visited us at least once, whether as part of a class or on their own,” he said. “I also want everyone who lives anywhere in the state of Georgia to become familiar with who we are and what we offer. I want everyone to visit us in person or online and experience the collection and our programs in ways that are meaningful to their lives.”

The museum has already made changes under his direction, including staff and department reorganization, but there are more changes ahead, he noted, including new positions related to the museum’s work with students.

“After all, art is about change,” Odo added, “just as much as it is about history.” It will also be a time for self-reflection, as the museum embarks on a yearlong period of research. “We’ll be taking a closer look at our purpose as a university and state museum of art; what our students and other audiences think of us and how they’d like us to develop moving forward; and what we want to offer our stakeholders in the future.”

Other new efforts will include improvements to the museum’s website and other museum resources, such as the museum’s collection database and other educational resources that will “help students, researchers and art lovers of all kinds have a much better online experience with the Georgia Museum of Art,” he said.

As Odo’s first academic year as director comes to a close, he and his wife are enjoying being a part of the Athens and UGA community.

“Life in Athens has been wonderful. My wife and I have found the transition very easy,” he said. “The warm welcome we’ve received has truly been remarkable and has helped us to quickly feel part of the community.”

After many frigid winters in the Northeast, Odo has been enjoying the warmer weather and accompanying change in pace. “In museum work, we encourage people to [view art through] ‘slow looking’ and ‘close looking,’ so it feels right to slow down in other areas of life as well.”

It is also a reminder of his formative years growing up in Hawaii.

“[In] some ways, life in the South feels very familiar to me,” he said. ”I hadn’t realized how fully I had accepted the frenetic pace of the Northeast until moving to Athens, but I am learning to slow down again and can report that it is a very reasonable way to work and live.”