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Hollander leaves mark on museum

SAMA Altoona site coordinator to retire after 21 years on job

Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art Altoona site coordinator Barbara Hollander is retiring after 21 years with the nonprofit art organization. “When I first started here, many people didn’t know about us,” Hollander said. Her outreach efforts have worked to attract more visitors to the museum, which has seen continued increases in attendance. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

Throughout her career, beginning as an art teacher and finishing as a site coordinator for a downtown Altoona museum, Barbara Hollander strived to make art fun and accessible to all — from casually curious visitors and learned art connoisseurs to up-and-coming regional artists exhibiting for the first time.

Hollander retires Tuesday as site coordinator for the Altoona location of the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art after 21 years with the nonprofit art organization. She is the longest-tenured employee of SAMA, the oldest satellite museum system in the country.

She hopes area residents will remember her ability to “showcase the majesty of this museum. When you are privy to such an extensive permanent collection, as well as talented local and regional artists, it is easy to put on first-rate exhibitions,” she said, when reflecting upon her career. “Every guest should feel welcome and comfortable coming into the museum and enjoying the camaraderie.”

Founding director, now emeritus director Michael Strueber of Hollidaysburg, recalled hiring Hollander as education coordinator in 1990.

“We were the first museum in Pennsylvania to take original artifacts from our permanent collections into schools. Barbara was the perfect candidate. She nailed it,” Strueber said. “Vivacious, articulate, makes a fabulous appearance as she loves clothes.”

Strueber said Hollander’s work in schools was “like a breath of fresh air for kids. She was absolutely fantastic,” adding that holding children’s attention can be challenging. “You have to be ‘on’ every minute with kids, and she really helped solidify and perpetuate that program.”

Hollander has served under six executive directors during her tenure, including Gary Moyer, who retired in 2018.

“I had the pleasure of working with her for nearly 12 years and she was a colleague and friend,” Moyer said in a phone call from his home on Delaware Bay.

“She’s hard-working, very competent, creative, committed and passionate,” Moyer said. “She has a great personality and wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. And, I learned that when Barbara spoke, you should listen. She always wants the very best for Altoona.”

Hollander said she made plans to retire months ago, but stayed on longer than expected because as SAMA’s new director and senior curator, Sarah Henrich, took over earlier this year, the coronavirus hit.

Hollander said one of the biggest challenges she faced as site coordinator in Altoona has been increasing public awareness.

“When I first started here, many people didn’t know about us,” she said. “This might be considered by some to be a bit controversial, but I have displayed large nudes in our front window hoping to make a statement that we are here.” The marketing ploy worked as the art garnered television and newspaper coverage.

The nudes also generated a few complaints to Moyer, but Hollander and Moyer were prepared and moved the paintings.

Hollander also implemented “Lunch a L’Art” and “Wicked Wednesday,” programs held at noon and early evening, respectively, to bring together museum donors, curators and staff with area residents who want to learn about art and or to celebrate it.

“I don’t think I know anyone who loves to party more than Barb,” Strueber said. “She throws great, great exhibition preview parties and she has helped perpetuate the annual gala. She is going to be missed.”

Those outreach efforts also worked in attracting more visitors to the museum. The latest numbers show attendance increasing by 13 percent.

Hollander wants residents to know they can stop in any time and see the latest show.

“They can stay for 15 minutes or hours and they will be warmly welcomed,” she said.

Strueber and Moyer both credit Hollander’s work as an artist in her own right and her art education background for her many successes in working with donors and artists and landing prestigious donations to the museum’s ever-expanding permanent collection, including works by the late regional artist Sue Severson, and most recently, a substantial donation of theater, movie and music posters, programs and memorabilia from Mark Del Costello, a nationally prominent collector.

Moyer credits Hollander with “rediscovering” the late Shirley Goldfarb, an Altoona native who moved to Paris in 1954 and became an internationally famous artist.

The key to Hollander’s success, Moyer said, is a combination of respect, passion and personality.

He said art lovers “recognize her competence in art — both in art education and in being an artist in her own right. She speaks their language and people like her.”

Strueber credits Hollander with establishing positive relationships with state and regional artists and providing opportunities for them to exhibit their work. In turn, many of those artists then made donations that expanded the permanent collection.

“She has been a wonderful asset to our community and our museum,” Strueber said.

Hollander is also well-known for establishing a signature fundraising event called “Think Pink” at SAMA-Altoona.

“Barbara celebrates life to the fullest every day. Her enthusiasm is contagious,” Strueber said.

Moyer recalled a time when Hollander was taking a trip to Cuba for vacation.

“I never thought I’d have to tell an employee this, but I did tell Barb that if she was arrested, no bribe money would be available,” Moyer said, adding that he was “semi-joking.”

Hollander also recalled that conversation and said it became a joke between them.

“She will be greatly missed,” Moyer said.

The Hollander file

Name: Barbara Hollander

Residence: Altoona, for 40 years; born in Wilkes-Barre

Family: Husband, Joel; three daughters; and three grandchildren

Employment: Longest tenured employee of the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, with 21 years of service; retires as Altoona site coordinator on Tuesday; first hired as education coordinator. Previously worked as an art teacher at Bishop Guilfoyle High School.

Education: Wyoming Valley West High School; graduate of Monmouth University, Bachelor of Arts degree in art education.

Awards and honors: Recipient of the Blair County WISE Women Award. During her tenure, the museum received the Allegheny Mountains Convention and Visitors Bureau Award, as well as being inducted into the Blair County Arts Hall of Fame.

Community Involvement: Art in Common, ABCD Corp. Attractions and Visitors meetings, 40-year board member of Agudath Achim Synagogue; past partner of the Blair County Arts Hall of Fame and auctioneer for the Blair County Arts Festival.

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