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SAM's Sandra Jackson-Dumont Leaves For New York

Courtesy of Seattle Art Museum/Jennifer Richard

Seattle Art Museum's waterfront Olympic Sculpture Park was still a work in progress when SAM Education Director Sandra Jackson-Dumont arrived here in 2006.

"The Neukom Vivarium, that big log in the glass case, it was up in a hoist," she recalls. "It looked like some kind of living UFO."

Seven and a half years later the Olympic Sculpture Park, like Jackson-Dumont, is a beloved fixture in Seattle's cultural scene. Jackson-Dumont was hired by former SAM Director Mimi Gates to fling open the museum doors to a wider audience. The gregarious San Francisco native has done just that.

She initiated the quarterly SAM Remix, a huge party at the museum that features live music, drinks and other performance.

Remix is only one of the many programs she's overseen in an effort to make the museum more accessible to the general public. She's also created a teen program focused on urban design, as well as a series of museum tours led by non-arts people.

Alas for SAM, April will be Jackson-Dumont's last official month at the museum. She'll assume a similar job at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in early May.

That institution, one of America's oldest and largest cultural repositories, is in for a breath of fresh air. Or maybe strong wind would be a more apt description.

"My whole career has been about connecting people to ideas, and to their own power," says Jackson-Dumont. Art has been the most potent tool in her kit.

She didn't grow up going to museums, but Jackson-Dumont says culture was her focus. She danced as a kid and believes great experiences with art and culture can be magic. She aims to create those experiences for her community.

Among those magic moments: street parades by Spectrum Dance Company members dressed in artist Nick Cave's sound suits, and an installation by Chicago-based artist and urban thinker Theaster Gates that featured a couple of turntables and Gates' huge collection of vintage recordings. But Jackson-Dumont says some of her best magic moments were less public.

The day the renovated downtown Seattle Art Museum reopened, a little girl lost her stuffed bunny in the crowd. SAM staff found the wayward toy, and Jackson-Dumont and her staff returned it to its owner, packed in a museum backpack.

When the little girl's father called to thank Jackson-Dumont, he mentioned the girl had spent the days without her cherished animal imagining all the fun the bunny was having with the SAM artworks that had come alive in her imagination. That story delighted the longtime arts administrator.

"I only talk about the stuff I remember. And I'm only interested in memorable things that move me." Jackson-Dumont says. "I wonder what she'll think about the museum in 10, 20, 30 years?"

Jackson-Dumont says she'll miss Seattle, where philanthropists, artists and bike messengers all rub shoulders on a regular basis.

When she first moved to the Pacific Northwest more than seven years ago, she sought out a neighborhood that resembled the one she left behind in New York. Now, as she returns to the East Coast, she says she's looking for a new home that will remind her of Seattle.