Curating for Usual and Unusual Spaces: A Chat With Allison Hays Lane

by Gary Sweeney June 28, 2021

Project Manager Karen Alba on the left, and Allison Hays Lane on the right, at work on location, 2021

The San Antonio-based Allison Hays Lane is a busy person. Her career has been spent curating art collections for museums, private collectors, corporations and hospitals. She’s helped publish art books and organized museum exhibits. She is currently putting together a massive $2.25 million art collection for the University Health Women’s and Children’s Hospital, set to open in 2023. Allison is an extremely knowledgable person when it comes to all things Art, and her energy and enthusiasm for her projects comes through the moment she begins speaking. I was able to catch her in a very short break from her duties.

Gary Sweeney:  First, give us a little of your background in art.

Allison Hays Lane: My childhood growing up in NYC was shaped by art and museums. My mother headed the publishing program for Children’s Television Workshop (Sesame Street and The Electric Company), and our family friends were often artists, writers and musicians. It was a very creative time in the city and a great series of life lessons for me. My Saturdays were always spent in a museum like the Met or Museum of Natural HIstory. We also grew up around art in our home which I love and continue to collect to this day.

I was lucky to get to study in London during college, graduating from Sarah Lawrence with a degree in Art History, and completing my Masters in Museum Education from Bank Street.

During that time I came full circle, doing graduate studies at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a place that I had enjoyed so much as a kid. I went on to be a National Endowment Fellow, studying the mechanics of the arts from the government side and a Rotary Professional Exchange to Japan. All of these experiences have impacted my art outlook. I’m now entering my 4th decade of working in arts administration.

GS: That’s an impressive resume. How did you land in San Antonio?

AHL: I moved here in 1992 from NYC, after having my first child and working at the Whitney Museum of American Art. San Antonio has offered me great creative opportunities due to the vibrant arts community. It has been a joy to be a part of and to contribute to, for over 25 years. I founded my own arts consulting group, OLANA GROUP, in 2004.

GS: Did you ever have a mentor?

AHL: I have been lucky to have had a lot of great life and career guides along the way. I have tried to repay that by having interns over the years, as a way of paying back.

My most memorable mentor was artist and collector Harold Wood, with whom I worked for almost ten years. We developed his vision of the “‘Artist’s Gallery,” 1994-2000, and created an opportunity for the McNay Art Museum to highlight and honor the work of San Antonio artists. Harold and his wife, Barbara, were instrumental in that contemporary mindset shift for the McNay back in 1996. Five excellent  shows and books came out of that gift, from 1996-2000.

GS: What makes a good curator?

AHL: A good curator needs to be a good listener. They need to be able to take a creative idea and bring it full circle into the world. They also need to have a good eye, and instincts for juxtaposing distinct objects, styles or subject matter that have a common ground. Something that will start a discussion.

GS: If you could curate any exhibit from any artist or groups of artists, what would it be?

AHL: I am a huge fan of the work of Joseph Cornell, Sonia Delaunay, Kurt Schwitters, and Georgia O’Keeffe. That would be an interesting post-opening dinner party!

Lane on right, with artist (and this interview’s author) Gary Sweeney, 2021

GS: What are some of the unique challenges for creating a collection for a hospital?

AHL: Being a museum-trained curator working in a Level 1 trauma hospital has been one of the greatest challenges of my professional life, and one of my greatest honors. The big joke for me is when our team  calls me the “Art Lady” which my initials AL reveal to be true.

Working along side such dedicated and amazing medical staff has been a humbling experience for me, especially in the year we just went through. I saw first hand the incredible strength and resilience on their parts.

My task is to able to take the vision of the hospital leadership and integrate art into a built environment for healing, and to design programs to get art to the bedside, ambulatory clinics, and our new RECHARGE Rooms, where frontline healthcare workers can find a quiet area to create art, relax, or write about their thoughts, or process their experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The challenge is that this is not a normal art setting. It is a living, breathing environment with a lot of moving parts. You often show up to hang an art work on a blank wall, only to find a defibrillator or fire extinguisher has been installed there. The key to it all is to learn to be fluid, and to adapt and grow with the institution. Our award-winning program has shown the benefits of art in a healiing setting; this includes less medication needs, and faster recovery time. Art can be the great equalizer that lifts all boats. Why should it not have a place in healing as well?

This next stage of growth of our program for the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital will be a state-of-the-art facility, which will encompass several fronts. We have offered art-call opportunities in Design Enhancement, Public Art, and Art Procurement. We are especially proud of a unique aspect of our calls, in which a mentor artist will be paired with a less-experienced artist, to allow them firsthand exposure into public art.

What has been so rewarding for me after over ten years of our “Salud-Arte : Art of Healing” program has been the pride our staff takes in it. It is guided and selected by them. If this year of Covid-19 has shown us anything, it is how precious life is. The arts play a big role in how we perceive and process the world.

1 comment

1 comment

Dave Renner June 29, 2021 - 11:18

I enjoyed reading about Ms Lane’s interesting career. I am glad she is working in Texas and I hope some Texas artists get a chance to be included in her selections. I had the privilege many years ago to be photographed with my son Patrick by Texas photographer Keith Carter for a project he was working on for a pediatric wing of a hospital in Georgia. What an honor.


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