Can you explain a little bit about the type of work you do here at Cooper-Hewitt?
As Curatorial Director, my primary responsibility is overseeing the Museum's collections and helping to shape the exhibition program. Major initiatives at the Museum are done collectively, with each division playing a role in decisions. One of the most visible outcomes of the newly renovated Museum is that we will have 60% more gallery space for exhibitions, including one floor devoted to showing Cooper-Hewitt's vast collections. I have also been very involved in the Museum’s major renovation, which re-opens in Fall 2014.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
Finding time to do all the exhibitions I would like to delve into.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
Being continually immersed intellectually and viscerally in the richness of art and design, and meeting the people who make it happen—designers, artists, manufacturers, scientists and engineers. I also love working internationally.

How would you describe design? What is good design? Bad design?
Design is a culturally creative act to solve everyday problems. Bad design wastes resources, demonstrates no cultural gain and has no positive consequence. Good design is both popular and profound at the same time, like Mozart's piano concertos.

How has the renovation either opened new doors or posed new challenges for you?
Being closed has been a wonderful opportunity to completely re-think Cooper-Hewitt and what we want to be as a 21st-century Museum. This includes embracing digital and emerging media, which is hitting museums like a tidal wave. More than ever before, it is encouraging staff from all departments to work collaboratively to develop engaging content and new ways to integrate it into the entire visitor experience. It has inspired us to think about design, our collections and archives in new ways that will hopefully make them even more accessible and meaningful.

Looking forward, what are you most excited about once the museum reopens?
I am eager for the Museum's doors to open and to be in the galleries with the visitors as they engage with the exhibitions, education programs and digital elements—the entirely new visitor experience that we are creating. Staff members, working with designers Diller Scofidio + Renfro along with Local Projects, have been re-envisioning how to make the new Cooper-Hewitt more accessible, more exciting and more relevant for the 21st century.

What is your favorite Cooper-Hewitt exhibition to date? Why?
That's a tough one because what I love about Cooper-Hewitt is the breadth of exhibitions, from the somewhat quirky and idiosyncratic to the monographic, to the synthetic. Extreme Textiles was a fascinating discovery. It revealed the art of textiles and underscored how fundamental textiles and textile techniques are, and have always been, for solving a vast range of design problems. 

What was the most memorable moment for you at Cooper-Hewitt?
Fall 2014, when the newly re-envisioned Cooper-Hewitt opens its doors to the visitors.

What is the future of design?
It's very exciting witnessing design expand in a myriad of directions, particularly addressing social needs and poverty in the global south.

Finally, if you could redesign anything, what would it be?
Hospitals, from the complete patient experience to the overall physical environment, to the way cords are integrated into the beds and equipment.

One thought on “Meet the Staff: Cara McCarty

Hi Cara, Congratulations on your opening! In her review of the opening in the New Yorker, Alexandra Lange says “I loved the giant slide rule—a classroom model—hanging from the ceiling, but what came next?” The answer is the HP35, the first pocket calculator, for which my late brother-in-law Ed Liljenwall was the industrial designer. We the family have his personal collection from his days at HP. The story of the design of the HP35 is important and not well known outside of the people who worked at HP at the time. I have not been able to find records of examples in museum collections outside of HP and maybe the Tech Museum in San Jose, but nothing in museums of art and design, which is puzzling because it was such a game changing design. We would love to cement Ed’s legacy by donating an example to an appropriate museum. Please let me know if you would be interested or if not, perhaps you have a recommendation. Thanks, Mimi Roberts

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