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.

19 thoughts 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

Dear Mimi,
I would love to speak with you. Would you please send me an email so I know where to connect. Looking forward to talking, With many thanks, Cara

Cara, I hope you will see the current MoMA design show ‘Making Music Modern.’ I gave you a credit in my blog.
Best wishes, John

Hello Cara,
I was so fascinated with the exhibit on Tools
that I decided to get the book.
An exhibit can have a great impact on our minds
and gives us insight.
I saw your last comment on your interest on how to
redesign hospital -from patient experience to the physical
environment . I wonder what your thoughts and when will you do such exhibits.
I work as a physician and always thought of making
a difference improving patient safety.

Claudette Tiru,MD

Hi Cara,
I saw the bit about you in the NYT’s Sunday Review section (5/17/15). It’s been ages… I didn’t know you were in NYC, never mind the Curatorial Director at the Cooper Hewitt. Congratulations! I’d love come visit, see your Tools show and have a coffee. And how great to learn about Kathryn Ma’s recent novel. If you have a moment send me an email.
Hope to see you,

Dear Cara, It was nice to be back in touch with you last night at the “Tool Talk.” You and Matilda McQuaid did a wonderful job. I am studying this catalogue and looking forward to the next show you do.

Larry List

Dear Ms. McCarty, I read about your interest in algorithms in today’s WSJ. We have just published, together with the Yale University Art Gallery, a portfolio of 10 aquatints, one each by Nobel Prize winning physicists and Fields medal winning mathematicians. They have each drawn an expression associated with their work together with a letter-press printed text about the ‘elegance’ of their contribution. The portfolio is called CONCINNITAS and if you have any interest I’d be delighted to send you more information. You can see the images on our website,, under Parasol Editions. Bob Feldman/Parasol Press

Thank you again for the informative talk on “Plastics to 3-D Printing” as a jewelry designer for the Nodes Collection I am always fascinated by the materials presented at the museum!

I was interested in getting a list of the designers and manufacturers for some of your products in the Access+Ability exhibit. Where is it available? Or, can I download it from your website? Thanks.

Thank you for your inquiry. Please look at the exhibition section of, which lists the Access+Ability exhibition along with al the products and manufacturers in the exhibition.

Dear Cara,
I am interested in finding the person who has taken an interest in katagami. I manage a substantial collection that was gathered from the early Japonism collections when they were dispersed when Art Nouveau and its allies (Arts and Crafts etc) fell from fashion.
I have 1700 examples and have recently captured all in hi res digital imaging to keep the archive intact in a usable form while making the actual artifacts available for collection.
I would like to visit and learn more about your collection…by which I mean visit, see. And make mine available for viewing.

Dear Ms McCarty,

Several days ago, an engineer from Google was explaining the difficulties of applying copper to silicon. I replied that I had some sense of the difficulty based on seeing your show, “Information art: diagramming microchips” in 1990 at the MOMA. As a recent art school grad and newly minted graphic designer, I was familiar with Rubylith and blown away by the diagrams and stencils in the exhibit. As I stand here flipping though the pages of the catalogue (avoiding work I should be doing), I recognize the influence your show has had on my work. Thank you for doing what you do.


Dear Ms. McCarthy,

I work for the Resource Development Department at Beit Issie Shapiro, a leading global organization that works to improve the lives of people with disabilities.
As part of our work, we would like to host the Access+Ability exhibition in Israel.
Kindly contact us and let us know how to go about it.

Best regards,

Hi Cara, Imagine my surprise when I picked up the winter edition of the SLAM magazine today. I am thrilled to see the Boontje Night Blossom Chandelier was funded in your honor. I’m looking forward to visiting it soon. All the best I the new year. Jane

Greetings Ms. McCarty

I am a visual artist and arts educator at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I would like to respectfully request Cooper Hewitt to consider an artist-in-residence program. I collect vintage tablecloths of which are stretched as canvases with visual and conceptual reference to a computer chip. How exciting it would be to further develop/exhibit at Cooper Hewitt! Would love to discuss!

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am a German doctoral student at the Eberhard Karls University at Tübingen and would kindly like to ask you a favor:

My Doctoral Thesis project is on Homer Dodge Martin (1836-1897), in relation to other American and European landscape painters of his time.

From the internet, I have learned that you are in possession of four works of art by Homer Dodge Martin:
Would you please send me, if possible, some more information about it?

I have already done research work on the Museum’s website but do not want to miss any further, very important, information about Homer Dodge Martin.
Therefore, to make sure to get a complete idea of the distribution of art works by Homer Dodge Martin and of archived manuscripts on this artist, I am sending you this letter.

I would be extraordinarily grateful if you could help me with my affair and send me, if possible, all material that you are in possession on Homer Dodge Martin.

If you need any further information concerning my project, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thank you very much.


Dear Ms Cara McCarty,

please accept my apologies for not addressing you with your name in my previous request.


Maike Stricker-Ernst M.A.

Dear Ms. McCarty,

About ten years ago, the Cooper Hewitt had a special exhibition that featured art objects in a broad range of media on the museum’s second floor that had been selected as examples of design excellence. Among the works was a community plan designed by an architectural or planning firm for a mid-western site. Do you know what the site was and who the designer was?
Thank you for your assistance.
Edward Andrews

gianmaria (from CA) here hi Cara,
I was sitting down today and a Cal student near me looked a bit like you did in our old times, when I last saw you I think at the MOMA …so I thought to look you up and give a holler.
Hope all’s well through the ups and downs, you seem to be doing better than I.
Below my most used e mail…
Best gmm (artist)

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