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Plains Art Museum curator seeks a sense of story

Becky Dunham, curator of the Plains Art Museum in Fargo. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Kris Kerzman | Forum News Service

Growing up, Becky Dunham didn’t go to the beach or theme parks for family vacations. Instead they visited museums.

The new curator at the Plains Art Museum here has been a fan of museums as long as she can remember.

“I grew up in an artsy family,” said the new curator of the Plains Art Museum, adding that both of her parents are classically trained musicians. “That was our family time. … When I was young, I saw an exhibition about Pompeii, and that solidified the kind of work I wanted to do.”

For Dunham, that means a lot of work at the intersection of art and archaeology. She fell in love with ancient art and Mediterranean archaeology while pursuing her bachelor’s in art history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She continued to cultivate those interests through her master’s studies in art history at the University of Florida at Gainesville. Dunham also pursued a Ph.D. at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

Along the way, she interned at the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art in Gainesville and worked at the Museum of Art and Archaeology in Columbia. Most recently, Dunham was an assistant curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, where she worked in the department for prints and drawings, building on another of her interests, the use of paper throughout history.

“Through various projects, I became interested with paper as a medium, which also made me interested in processes and technology and the dissemination of new materials and techniques. That interest runs through how I pursue exhibitions and artworks,” she said.

“I took a roundabout way to get where I am, but I wouldn’t change it at all,” she added.

Dunham said she’s also been interested in the use of graphite on paper, especially in larger works.

“There’s been an explosion of monumental works and people working with graphite, which is really interesting,” she said.

“People drawing on paper with dry media are taking things to the next level. There’s something very magical about graphite. We use it on an everyday basis, but we also keep seeing it used in different ways.

“I just love graphite. I could go on and on about it.”

As for her new position at the Plains, Dunham plans to create exhibitions that convey a sense of story while dealing with artistic processes.

“(Curatorial work) is very much like telling a story,” said Dunham“I want there to be something educational and create some sort of special experience where the audience wants to share it with others.

“I like to create really dynamic exhibitions that cover a wide variety of subjects, like time periods, styles, processes and materials. I want each story to be unique.”

When not at work, Dunham loves Scandinavian crime fiction (Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Series,” for instance) and spending time with her dog Suki. When with her family, she loves card games such as Hearts and Euchre.

Hailing as she does from warmer climates, Dunham is also surprisingly upbeat about her first winter in the Upper Midwest. She said she’s well-prepared in terms of a coat, boots and the rest, and she sees the cold weather as an easy tradeoff for living in a place like Fargo, especially since she’s had to move around quite a bit for her career.

“I’d like to establish roots somewhere, and so when I was investigating Fargo I thought, ‘That looks like an OK place to plant some roots.’ It really is a lovely community, people are warm and inviting, and there’s a great art scene. What more could a person ask for?”

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead, Minn., and West Fargo, N.D., and its online publication, ARTSpulse. For more information, visit

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