Mississippi State alumnus William Pittman Andrews understands and appreciates the critical role that a cultural institution can play in the lives of many, which is why he takes his job very seriously.

The Starkville native has served more than three years as director of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, which houses the largest and most comprehensive collection of Southern art in the world.

“I think my effectiveness as a museum administrator has come from my ability to speak a variety of languages, from administration to art to community service,” says the two-time MSU graduate who holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and ceramics (’93) and Master of Fine Arts in electronic visualization (’02).

“You have to be able to balance a lot of different things and practice your craft, so that you understand language of the arts and can communicate these things to the audience you want to be positively impacted by the power of your mission.”

Andrews, who previously served as director of the University of Mississippi Museum in Oxford, says more than anything, he considers the Ogden’s main function to be that of an educational institution.

“We like to think of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art as a regional museum with a national mission and an international audience. You never know what people have seen or where they’ve been, so we want the experience to be enriching no matter how many times they’ve been to this or other museums,” he says.

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Like many other things that have come out of the American South, Andrews says “visual arts and culture is something that’s so heavily integrated into the way people live.”

“There is a lot of interesting communication that goes on between human beings by way of art. We often look at the transmission as being an art-to-person thing, but it’s really people to people.”

“I think that cultural experiences underscore educational experiences, and the best thing anyone interested in art can do is look at art,” he adds. “You need to be able to experience all forms, modes, eras, disciplines and individuals’ work.”

Andrews says he first developed an interest in museums back in the early 1990s while serving as a gallery docent for MSU’s College of Architecture, Art and Design, along with his wife and fellow BFA graduate (’94), Stacie.
“I became very, very fascinated and an advocate for the space in which people and art meet after we showed a selection from Roger Houston Ogden’s permanent collection in the gallery at Mississippi State in 1993,” says Andrews. He later would become gallery director and founding director of the Visual Arts Center Gallery at MSU.

“When people would come in and ask questions, we’d have to go ask our art history professors or read their books or visit the library in order to answer their questions because the Internet wasn’t as populated with material like it is now,” he says, while adding that “our knowledge base grew every day.”

Also a former Starkville High School and Mississippi State art instructor, Andrews is the son of the late Ann Pittman Andrews, a 26-year veteran MSU English instructor who died in 2007, and Dr. C. Hunter Andrews, MSU professor emeritus of agronomy. To serve as a living memorial, Hunter Andrews chose to establish an English department scholarship in his wife’s name.

“My father and mother were both career educators, and they embraced and supported any educational experience,” says Andrews, whose life also was greatly impacted by longtime Starkville High School art teacher Nelle Elam, former MSU art department head Kay DeMarsche, veteran art professor Brent Funderburk and the university’s first artist-in-residence William Dunlap.

“Because Starkville is such a wonderful artistic community, I was able to meet these individuals as a young man and still cherish our friendships,” he says. “I enjoyed the really unique and wonderful opportunity to have been both a student and a teacher in the same department, where there always were really great faculty who instilled in me a love for art and passion for service that I have to this very day.”

When referring to his adopted hometown, Andrews says he likes to call New Orleans “the largest small town or the smallest big city I’ve ever been in.”

“I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to live in great, Southern towns. They each carry a kind of cultural emblem to some degree, but this is one that celebrates it all the time—and with great fervor,” he says with a smile.

“This city is a great harbinger of creativity, more so than many in that it is absolutely rife with culture. It is a culture of making things and making do, and by being part of that creative process, you don’t have to go very long without an opportunity to share.”

Whether planning long-term building projects or creating new programming, Andrews says he and his staff devote a lot of time and energy to ensure that the Ogden Museum remains a high-performing cultural entity.

“In many ways, all of the Southern states are represented in the institution on a frequent basis. We’re always interested in exploring the idea of Southerness,” a concept which Andrews says is constantly changing.

“People frequently ask us what Southern art is. We enjoy exploring that question more than we try to provide a concrete answer because identity is becoming more fluid and people are thinking of themselves and their personal geographies in different ways.”

Like with any great endeavor, sometimes the process becomes as active as the production, Andrews explains.

“Cultural institutions are great stewards of many things, and you have to spend an appropriate amount of time considering the best path and most reasonable action to take or what’s the best thing for the institution and the community,” he says.

“I spend the majority of my time either actively engaged in moving the mission of the museum forward or in engaging people who I think would be interested in art and culture of the American South and helping us manifest more of that here.”

Some museums may plan up to 25 years into the future, but Andrews says his scope extends significantly further.

“We have over 50 projects in development at any given time, so we have a long calendar to think of.

“I think in these times, it’s very appropriate and quite important to begin to think in much larger terms—like a 50- or 100-year strategy—because you don’t want to make decisions today that could diminish opportunities in the future.”

As a museum administrator, he considers one of his greatest hallmarks of success to be “managing a sustainable institution with a balanced budget and gathering financial support in all forms.”

As an artist and community member, Andrews has enjoyed seeing continual increases in Ogden attendance, membership, tours and activity offerings in recent years.

“New Orleans is a destination for many people right now, and it’s interesting and really great to see folks coming from all over the world to experience the unique culture,” he says. “New Orleans is a place where many artists can actually live and work because the community sustains that culture. They work hard to make sure that there is a place for artists here because artists help create a magnetic community.”
Work at the Ogden keeps him happily engaged on a daily basis, but Andrews says he and his family still cherish any opportunity they get to return to Starkville.

“We love Mississippi, and one great thing about Starkville is that it’s both rural and urban. You can enjoy everything that nature has to offer yet the town itself has sophistication, so it’s a wonderful combination,” he explains.

Andrews encourages all students, especially those enrolled in MSU’s College of Architecture, Art and Design, to visit the city of New Orleans, its Warehouse Arts District and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, for what he says is sure to be an “enhanced educational experience in an extremely vibrant city and cultural community.”

“Be open to opportunity and experience,” he advises. “You may have a variety of ideas about what you would like to do with your career and life now, but you never know which opportunity is going to be the one that sets you off on your path.”

By Sasha Steinberg, Photography by Megan Bean, Video by David Garraway