Farewell to Nisa Barger, Assistant Director of Collections


Nisa Barger, Landmarks Assistant Director of Collections, bids farewell to Landmarks at the end of this month. An integral part of Landmarks for nearly 14 years, Nisa has collaborated with students, artists, and dozens of project stakeholders to bring public art to campus. During her tenure, she oversaw the care and conservation of our collection, and also led Landmarks Preservation Guild, a volunteer group of students that learn basic conservation techniques. Nisa departs Landmarks to spearhead the Texas State University System public art program.

Before her departure, we sat down with Nisa to discuss her time at Landmarks. 


How did you first get involved with Landmarks? 

I believe I started at Landmarks in September 2010, shortly after I finished my Art History Master’s degree at UT. I was looking for related work and didn’t really want to leave Austin, so this position was in many ways a perfect combination of my education – my undergraduate degree in urban studies and my masters in contemporary art. 

How has Landmarks changed over the past 14 years? 

I think the best summary would be: It has grown! When I started, it was a baby, it was two years old and the only art in the collection were the 28 works on loan from The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Mark di Suvero’s Clock Knot. They were just finishing up the David Ellis commission, which became Animal

What has been your most challenging public art project? 

Every single project has distinct challenges because no two are alike. That's one of the interesting things and one of the hardest things about this job. You can apply lessons learned from one project to the next, but never completely because there's always a different set of conditions. 

James Turrell’s Skyspace, The Color Inside, was very challenging because I stepped into it, in a sense, midstream, as it had been in the works since the beginning of the program. I missed a lot of the preliminary conversations and design and it was a challenging project to cut my teeth on because it was so high profile and high pressure. I felt a bit out of my depth, but in hindsight, it was a great project and not that challenging because we had exceptionally co-operative design and engineering collaborators. 

As part of the Turrell project, you attended the Skyspace owners convention in 2013. Can you share a bit about that experience?

Yes! It was an amazing gathering in Sweden in 2013, which was definitely a highlight of my work here. It was held with a bunch of other current or prospective owners and keepers of Skyspaces from around the globe. We were hosted at a place that had a Skyspace and it was just very Swedish and beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. That was a privilege. 

Which Landmarks’ project brought you the most joy and why? 

I don't know if joy is the right descriptor, but one of the most satisfying art installations was when all of Sarah Oppenheimer’s glass pieces fit together during the install of C-010106. Nothing broke and everything was okay. That was probably the most high pressure and relieving moment of any project that I've worked on. It all just coalesced in a couple of days of install.

What lessons have you learned in the course of managing these projects? 

I would say a big thing I’ve learned is that there's a kind of a converse relationship between the budget for a project and how easy or simple it might be to bring to life. Some of the smallest budget public art projects have been the most demanding for me as a project manager. If it's a high-profile artist with a huge budget, yes, it's going to be very challenging, but there is a whole other bag of things that one has to do for perhaps a more emerging artist who is stretching and doing something very different than they're familiar with. In many cases, my role has to do a lot more leg work for those projects or a different style of work. 

What are you most excited about in your new role? 

The thing that I've loved most about my job at Landmarks has been the relationships that I've built with essential stakeholders and advocates. I'm looking forward to getting to know who those people will be in my new world. Along with that, I'm excited to get to know a whole new institution and the unique character of that institution. 

The Texas State University System has a different model for public art acquisition, which is acquiring art through the request for proposals (RFP) process. [Landmarks is a curatorially driven program.] In an ideal world, the RFP process brings opportunity to artists who are operating in a world that's different from the artists that Landmarks works with. 

Is there anything else you wanna add? 

It's been a good run. I'm gonna miss all my colleagues immensely!