BRIDGEPORT — Jennifer Reynolds-Kaye is no stranger to an art museum collection. She got her start in the craft as an intern for West Coast Museums and recently worked at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

But even with this context, the collection of the Housatonic Museum of Art in Bridgeport impressed her.

“I’ve started to familiarize myself with the paintings, sculptures and works on paper that we have, and my first impressions are, ‘Wow, that’s amazing,'” said Reynolds-Kaye, who took over as director of the museum. September 1.

She said she couldn’t choose a favorite piece from the museum’s collection, but she was particularly excited about two of them.

“I’m really thrilled that we have a Pablo Picasso on the bill, Elise Nevelson on the bill,” she said.

Reynolds-Kaye said former director Robbin Zella was a tough act to follow. Zella basically redid the museum, which is part of the Housatonic Community College. Reynolds-Kaye, she said, plans to continue Zella’s work while pursuing her own projects, including helping college students enter the workforce.

College CEO Dwayne Smith said in a statement that he looked forward to Reynolds-Kaye’s arrival.

“His knowledge and enthusiasm will help increase national awareness of our collection of over 7,000 works of art and the museum’s wide range of invigorating programs,” said Smith.

Originally from California – she still has a phone number in Los Angeles – Reynolds-Kaye got her start as an intern for a multicultural program at the Getty Research Institute in 2004. She earned her doctorate in art history from the University of Southern California in 2014, then moved to Connecticut where she worked for various institutions of higher education, including Yale and Manchester Community College.

She said she got into the field because the feeling of having different people’s perspectives on artwork and making connections appealed to her.

“It hooked me right away, that thrill and rush of teaching with a group and facilitating dialogue,” she said.

Art’s ability to impact people’s lives is not limited to a gallery, she said. As the museum profession diversifies, Reynolds-Kaye said she takes a decolonial approach to art, which downplays Eurocentrism. She added that she is passionate about centering student voices in the museum and plans to work with students, faculty and school staff to help students gain opportunities in the domain.

The public will have their first chance to meet Reynolds-Kaye on Thursday, with the opening of the “June Ahrens: Reflecting Time” exhibition featuring works by Stamford artist June Ahrens. But she has already met a few students and is looking forward to meeting more.

“I’m already very excited, just after these few conversations with our students about the possibilities of art for HCC students,” she said.

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