Meet the BNG Team
Get to know the team behind the 2022 Best of Bermuda Award. As a small but nimble team of five staff, we all wear many hats. Our membership has grown over the past year and with a relatively new team in place we thought that we would introduce ourselves to you. In celebration of being named Best Museum we will be profiling each of our staff members over the next few weeks. This week we meet Lara Hetzel.
Lara joined the Bermuda National Gallery as Volunteer and Operations Officer in February 2021, having first worked with the team as a Camp Counsellor on the Art+Tech programme the previous summer. A former Watch Leader for the Bermuda Sloop Foundation, she manages the gallery’s volunteer programme and supports the daily operations of the gallery.
Volunteers play a key role at BNG and Lara manages 40 active volunteers who work across various sectors of the gallery – from welcoming visitors at the front desk, to assisting with exhibitions and events, to sitting on committees and advising at board level.
Her role is hands on and wide ranging, particularly when it comes to exhibition changeovers. The logistics of installing an exhibition are myriad: from liaising with artists and lenders, to directing the contractors prepping the space and engaging the volunteers who help both behind the scenes and front of house. At the centre of it all is Lara. You might find her at the top of our 10 foot ladder hours before a show opens, working on the lighting, before running the guest list at the front door moments later as people start to arrive.
With a background in content creation and a degree in Anthropology and Film Studies from Wesleyan, Lara also produces the 360-degree immersive tours that accompany our online exhibitions and photographs many of our visitors and special guests for BNG’s website and social channels.
We caught up with Lara to discuss the vital role that volunteers play at BNG, the daily needs of running a gallery space and how seeing the exhibitions through visitors’ eyes always keeps them fresh.
BNG: What does a typical day at the gallery look like for you?
LH: Every morning, I check our volunteer calendar to confirm who we have lined up for the day’s front desk shifts; Bermuda National Gallery has a roster of around 20 fantastic regular volunteers that welcome our visitors, perform reception duties, and serve as the public face of the gallery during opening hours. The day is split into two shifts, with volunteers assisting with a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly slot. At the start of the day, I’ll do a walkthrough of the gallery and turn on any audio-visual works before updating the morning’s volunteer on any gallery events, upcoming exhibitions, or anticipated tours for the day.
From that point on, my typical day can vary widely based on the exhibition calendar. When a new show is going up, much of my time is spent downstairs in the gallery: deinstalling and packing up any loaned works, patching and painting the walls, organizing any trucking needed for the transport of artwork or plinths, and working closely with Executive Director Peter Lapsley to execute the curatorial team’s vision on layout and install. Volunteers also play a vital role in this process; having a broad pool of volunteers with diverse skills and interests means that while one person may not be available for a regular front desk shift, they’re keen to get their hands dirty and hop in on the install front.
Once the shows are up, I can be found photographing them for our virtual walkthrough with a specialized 360-degree camera, planning the upcoming volunteer calendars and liaising with new volunteers, tackling daily facilities needs – from changing light bulbs to communicating with HVAC technicians, supporting other staff members on research projects and website admin, or working to optimize BNG’s always overflowing storage spaces, among other tasks.
BNG: What part of your job do you enjoy the most and why?
LH: On the public-facing side, I always appreciate spending time with our volunteers and gallery visitors. Having others enjoy and respond to BNG’s exhibitions is the ultimate reward for the time spent in the lead-up. Everyone’s background and approach to art is so different, that even after a show has been up for months, these conversations always illuminate something new for me.
Behind the scenes, it’s been a joy to discover BNG’s permanent collection and familiarize myself with 30 years of the gallery’s exhibition and institutional history. There’s a treasure hunt element to research that can’t be beat, and the thrill of getting a peek behind the curtain never wears off. This year, processing the incoming Biennial applications was also a highlight; to get this condensed snapshot of what some of Bermuda’s most exciting artists and poets are currently working on was invigorating and inspiring!
BNG: What would people be most surprised to know about your role?
LH: People are often surprised to learn that although I have “volunteer” in my title, I am a full-time paid staff member! That being said, BNG’s volunteers play an essential role in the gallery’s operations, from the front desk all the way up to our Collections and Exhibitions committees. If you have an enthusiasm for the arts, and the drive to expand on your own skills and interests while making a difference, please reach out to me at email@example.com!
BNG: What is something that most people don’t know about BNG?
LH: I’m not sure that locals always realize the rate of exhibition changeover: that due to staggered openings in the five exhibition spaces, in a single year they can visit BNG multiple times and always see something new. This is why I encourage everyone to follow us on social media and subscribe to the e-newsletter, you don’t want to hear from a friend about a great show that you’ve only just missed out on!
A more general tidbit of BNG trivia is that there was once a movie theatre in our current City Hall home. The room in the staff office that currently houses our printer and filing cabinets was formerly a projection booth, and still has the heavy door and metal shutters that you often saw installed for fire safety in the era of flammable nitrate film stock.
BNG: What is your favourite piece in the BNG collection and why?
LH: James Cooper’s Helmut Sculpture #2 (2009) is the first piece that comes to mind. I had the work as my desktop screensaver for several years after seeing it at the 2010 Bermuda Biennial, long before I had any thought that I would eventually work at BNG! I admire Cooper’s ability to draw the strange out of the everyday, to take play and experimentation seriously. This piece always makes me want to make art.
Another standout piece for me is Chesley Trott’s Untitled (1997) spice wood sculpture, bequeathed to BNG by the late Nea Willits in 2021. Having previously been exposed to Trott’s powerful large-scale public artworks in bronze (We Arrive at Barr’s Bay Park, and When Voices Rise in Wesley Square), it was exciting to spend time with the Bermudian sculptor’s work on a more intimate scale. When I was photographing this piece during accessioning, it seemed to continually reveal itself, almost unrecognizable from each new angle.