Lessons with Leadership with Heidi Zuckerman, CEO and Director for the Aspen Art Museum

Bio: Heidi Zuckerman has served as the CEO and Director for the Aspen Art Museum since 2005. She has led the revitalization and re-imagination of the organization, including working with the board and investors to recast the mission and vision of the museum. Zuckerman received her Honors BA in European History from the University of […]

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Heidi Zuckerman has served as the CEO and Director for the Aspen Art Museum since 2005. She has led the revitalization and re-imagination of the organization, including working with the board and investors to recast the mission and vision of the museum. Zuckerman received her Honors BA in European History from the University of Pennsylvania. She received her MA in Art History from CUNY Hunter College, and attended Harvard Business School Executive Education, Women on Boards. 

What brought you to this career path?

Ever since Iwas a student at the University of Pennsylvania, I’ve been interested in contemporary artists and artists who are responding to the times that we live in. I used to think that I would never want to work in a museum or teach, and ironically, that’s exactly what I’ve ended up spending my career doing. 

Before I started working in museums, I thought that museums are a static place where objects go to die. And what I’ve realized over time is that museums are actually, really, the soul of the art world. It’s the place where the most exciting artists and ideas can be shared with the broadest public. 

What is your big idea?

One of the reasons why I love museums is because they are sacred spaces. We’ve worked hard in Aspen to emphasize that concept through the design of the architecture and the elimination of the presence of technology. I’ve found that people come here to renew their souls.

My world-changing idea is to implement these sanctuary spaces – digital detox centers – so that people can escape from the speed of connection and information. And we incorporate culture and art as part of these spaces.

The spaces would be something that you can check into. It’s a combination of a retreat and a hotel and is very integrated into nature. These are places where you can go and be by yourself and have communal experiences where people can eat together, meditate together, walk together, just be together completely absent of technology.

How can this change the world?

I think that people are craving experiences over objects. If people can take 21 days or 30 days away from work, apart from a digitally connected world, we can profoundly change the world. It could facilitate access to additional areas of our brains that we do not currently utilize. Think of what we could create in terms of innovation, or what problems we could solve. The potential is unparalleled.

What do you need to have widespread adoption?

First, we need locations. It would be great if we could do these in partnership with the Forest Service. There are very few places in the world where phones do not work anymore. I’ve been in remote places, such as the middle of the ocean, and still been able to access cell service.

However, there is a location in Utah that I love. You cross this invisible line, and your phone stops working. So, I think it will take a lot of that conscious exploration of the few places in the world where you can’t connect. And we take these spaces and adapt it. 

What are the five things you wish you knew before?

I wish someone told me that it’s okay to take the time to sit in silence, to think before you respond. 

I wish someone told me that if you do not make the time and space to care of yourself physically, mentally, psychologically, and spiritually no one else will do it for you.

I wish someone told me that a lot of fish has a very high mercury level, and although it seems like a good thing to eat, it needs to be done if at all then in extreme moderation.

I wish someone told me that life is a practice and you can get better at any aspect of it.

And lastly, I wish someone told me that life is simultaneously both long and short.

That’s interesting. What did you mean by the last point?

When things are not going well, life feels very long, like it will never end. When things are going well, life feels really, really short. And the truth is that life has its own rhythm.

A brilliant friend of mine used to say “When things are going well, you’re not half as smart as you think you are. And when things are going badly, you’re not half as dumb as you think you are.”

 What do you believe in?

Be curious. Have gratitude. And appreciate beauty. 

My guiding principles have evolved over time. If you asked me a few years ago what I believed in, I would have said that one of my core principles is perseverance and that it is something that has determined and defined my career. I believe that ‘no’ means ‘not yet.’ Now, I really value ‘present-ness.’ I’m not too concerned about what has happened before or what might happen, but more about being in the moment. I appreciate listening and connecting people with artists and artworks to make life better.

What are your success habits?

I am a very ritualistic person. I really believe in personal ritual. So I start my day doing the same five things every morning. I make my bed, I meditate, I journal, I drink a Matcha Latte, and I exercise, usually yoga. This kind of everyday ritual  provides a sense of ‘grounded-ness.’ No matter where I am and where I wake up, whether I’m in my own home or traveling, I can approach the day from a place of positivity.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.


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