Conversation with Serena Pandos, new director of Louisiana Art and Science Museum
Serena Pandos is the new executive director and president of Louisiana Art and Science Museum, replacing Carol Gikas, who retired after 39 years. Pandos was president and executive director of the International Museum of Art and Science in McAllen, Texas. She is a native of Baltimore.
Why did you choose to take the LASM executive director job?
I learned about LASM 12 years ago while serving as the executive director of the International Museum of Art & Science in McAllen, Texas. I flew with our mayor and city commissioners to visit the Irene W. Pennington Planetarium. At that time, we were working with a Louisiana-based architect toward conducting research on building a similar planetarium. This project was being conceived as a creative and powerful way to support the educational, cultural and economic development of our community. I was so impressed with LASM, its staff, leadership and warm welcome. One day last summer, my husband asked me what my ideal dream job would look like. My answer: A similar organization in a bigger town where we could both enjoy access to the cultural resources we were accustomed to being from larger, more urban communities. Oddly, at that moment, I happened to be perusing the American Association of Museums website and noticed the LASM position opening, with Carol Gikas’ upcoming retirement. Having admired the LASM for many years and believing my skill sets paralleled with the job requirements, I applied for the position.
Who is your favorite artist and why?
Da Vinci would rate as my all-time favorite artist. His curiosity—from observation as well as his inventiveness as an engineer and scientist—led to some remarkable and timeless compositions that continue to be relevant today. His way of working and thinking, connecting humanity to STEM-based learning concepts, continues to be a foundation that many artists, scientists and engineers build upon.
What one piece of art would you like to own and display in your home and why?
That’s a tough question, although I terrifically enjoy “Tree of Life” by Gustav Klimt. The composition strikes me of one of fortitude. I think art has the power to inspire new perspectives, and I find this a hopeful piece that encourages contemplation of all good things. I’m also fond of tempera and gold leaf, as seen in rare books and illuminated manuscripts. I enjoy looking at illuminated manuscripts, and these were mostly created by anonymous artists. To me, these are some of the most impressive works of art in the world.
What is your most treasured possession?
My most treasured possession is a necklace that my husband gave me many years ago; a family heirloom from Greece that was worn by his mother. I wear it every day. It reminds me of the significance of family and culture; our humanity – the things that bring people together for the good of the cause.
What are some of the national trends for museums that you hope to incorporate at the LASM?
I’m looking forward to attending the American Association of Museums conference in New Orleans this May to explore developments in virtual exhibition offerings. Also, toward creating access to all, regardless of economic position or logistics. I’d like to see us expand our free admission program and online collections database.
What are your short- and long-term plans for the LASM?
My short-term plan is to continue conducting a listening tour involving community partners, neighbors, board members, stakeholders and staff toward assessing our next steps in service to our community. This will help inform and shape the long-term plans, which will be revisited later this year.
LASM has a prime riverfront spot. Any ideas on how to use the location to attract more visitors?
Lighting the building in the evening, both in the front and back, would significantly increase our presence and visibility from across the river and from within our burgeoning downtown area. Museums are one the first things visitors look for besides places to eat and shop. There are many artists who work with lights, or perhaps there is a partner or sponsor we can work with to make this happen. The real estate of LASM, on our beautiful riverfront, is a wonderful opportunity for a terrific light display.
A while back, LASM had a plan to expand and become more of a destination. Is that something you are considering?
Absolutely, yes. I have a lot more learn about this plan and what else attracts people to visiting or living here. I think the LASM is in a unique position to do this as we are only one of very few art and science museums in the nation. Our region is full of history, industry, education and natural ecological systems that reflect how art and science shape and inform in each other. There are many opportunities here to continue exploring our presence and value in the community. The planetarium itself is a lifetime experience to behold. I look forward to working with our leadership and our many other partners to continue developing these ideas and initiatives toward continually improving our educational, cultural and economic development here in Baton Rouge.
You are an artist yourself. Tell us about your work.
While completing two concurrent graduate degrees, I became interested in exploring how the visual arts foster wellness. I learned that while the notion that the arts are good for people, with art therapy becoming professionalized in the 70s, there was little to no hard data or medical evidence to prove it. In recent years, medical students have made great strides in conducting scientific research on what happens on a neurological and biomedical level when creating visual arts. The neurological discoveries were first made in Bavaria, Germany, in 2015. These studies reveal that visual arts making fosters greater problem-solving capabilities, resilience, higher executive functioning and introspection that is often associated with emotional intelligence. Around the same time, medical students at Drexel University conducted research on visual arts making on a biomedical level. The biomedical studies revealed significant reductions in the stress hormone, cortisol.
Since that time, the federal government, arts agencies, nonprofit organizations and universities have partnered to further this research and community service in the spirit of addressing the 21st century world health epidemic of stress. I think this marks an exciting new role for the arts, particularly as a wellness resource for stress reduction in the 21st century. My own work has taken on a similar purpose; working in paper and mixed media to achieve an aesthetic experience. During this process, I have discovered a resource for wellness. My greatest hope is to inspire this opportunity for others.