Creatively Cool

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Photo credit: Jonathan Hanson

Deana Haggag, 27, Director of The Contemporary

SWS: You live in Baltimore…which neighborhood?
DH: Ednor Gardens

SWS: Are you originally from Baltimore? If not, where?
DH: No. New Jersey– the most wonderful place in the world.

SWS: Why the move?
DH: …to get an MFA in Curatorial Practice from MICA.

SWS: A director of a museum at 26 –hustling and working hard must come naturally for you, no?
DH: That is certainly one way to put it– I’d also add a dash of ‘right place, right team, right time’, a touch of masochism, and an almost unwarranted amount of good fortune.

SWS: For those who don’t know, can you give me your description of what The Contemporary is?
DH: The Contemporary is a nomadic, non-collecting art museum that operates in Baltimore.

SWS: And how is it doing now that it’s be up and running for some time now –a couple of months, right?
DH: We’re almost twenty-five years old but re-launched in December 2013, so it’s been over six months. It’s been wonderful. We’ve gotten a tremendous amount of support locally and nationally and have a lot of exciting things on the horizon.

SWS: Did you think, say a couple of years ago, that you’d be running a museum?
DH: Absolutely not– a couple of years ago I wasn’t thinking past the weekend. It is very much the reason I went to graduate school and possibly the sole best decision I have ever made in my entire life.

SWS: What is art to you?
DH: Art operates for me very much the way I imagine religion does for many people– it gave me a sense of purpose, a local and global community, and a set of ethics to practice but also defend. It’s defined me in many ways. I’m continuously grateful to it.

SWS: Has it always been something you loved as a child?
DH: I guess, maybe. I’ve always been attracted to the humanities in a broader sense. I’d say the visual arts were something I took a much more vested interest in in college. I graduated with an Art History degree and had some of the most amazing professors and peers. They were some of the first people to really blow my mind.

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Photo credit: Jonathan Hanson

SWS: How do you feel about the city’s taste for art?
DH: I appreciate that there is a seemingly insatiable appetite for the arts in Baltimore. I also think it’s just competitive enough to be compelling but also collaborative enough to be experimental and exciting. It’s a tricky balance and something I haven’t seen in too many other cities. We’re really lucky to live here.

SWS: How would you describe your look?
DH: I’m not entirely sure. I guess it changes. I do know that my look is a complete success if there are no food stains on my top or crumbs in my hair. Sadly, this has not been the most successful year for me in that regard.

SWS: Many know Deana in the contemporary (no pun intended) female business attire –many of the time fitted dresses and heels. What’s the “at home” Deana wear?
DH: I rock some pretty fiercely embarrassing cotton housedresses that once belonged to my mom and grandmom. I also love me some sweatpants– the kind you get in high school that say your name on the butt or are sort of yelling something ridiculous at you like ‘THIS IS OUR HOUSE’ on the thigh. Those are the best.

SWS: Your favorite item in your closet right now?
DH: I’m not really one to kiss and tell but I am having a pretty intense romantic affair with this black silk blazer I found last month. It’s absolutely perfect for summer and is miraculously stain-proof! I’m also pretty attached to these red sunglasses I found in LA last summer. They were $2 and one of the best investments I’ve ever made.

SWS: Favorite place to shop?
DH: I stop by Hunting Ground regularly I’m also a big fan of the ol’ clothing swap. I’ve scored some of my best stuff from friends, namely Sarah Rodman who is responsible for so much of my wardrobe that sometimes I realize everything I am wearing on a particular day once belonged to her–much love and light to the girl.

SWS: What is your take on style, trends, fashion…
DH: …nothing should ever hurt. This whole putting fashion before pain thing is complete bullshit. Discomfort is not invisible, people. And, frankly, looking straight-up distressed in your own shoes is just a bad look. Period. Be comfortable, for heaven’s sake.

SWS: Thoughts on Baltimore’s sense of style…
DH: Baltimore goes hard. I ain’t mad at it.

SWS: If you could describe yourself in one word, what would it be?
DH: Caffeinated.

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Photo credit: Jonathan Hanson

SWS: Now, I know you’re a busy woman…any personal projects you’re working on?
DH: I’ve actually been trying to downsize on all my side projects namely to resurrect my personal life– the poor thing took a heavy beating this year. I am, however, staying active with a few organizations I’m really passionate about such as Awesome Baltimore, Baltimore School for the Arts, FORCE, Muse 360, and the Station North Tool Library. I also just recently joined the Affiliates Board for the Museums and Society Program at Johns Hopkins University, which I’m very excited about– they have some really incredible students and faculty.

SWS: There seem to be many young people, such as yourself, taking on leadership roles in the city. What’s your take on that?
DH: I think it’s magnificent. Obviously, I am at a bias here. And, while I understand the sensationalism that attaches itself to this bizarre brand of ageism, I really want to burst the prodigy bubble. There is very little romance here. It is mostly just a bunch of great, hardworking people that know when to ask for help. And, more importantly, we were all fortunate enough to have some amazing predecessors and mentors put down some much-needed, rock-solid foundations. I should also mention that many of these “young leaders” are good friends and I am constantly excited to be in such company and relieved to be able to rely on them as peer advisors. I’m pretty sure we’d all agree that we have a good thing going and we aren’t too interested in behaving competitively– that is not to say we don’t want to be the best, we just know we need to work collaboratively and collectively to do so. There is a sort-of hive mind of shared skills, experiences, and resources. It’s pretty badass.

SWS: When someone asks you, “How do you do it?” what do you say…
DH: …with a team of much smarter minds than I. I want to be perfectly clear here: no one does this alone. No one. I don’t do anything. We do a tremendous amount. There are a lot of people here and every single one of them is completely indispensible.

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Creator & managing editor of Strangers With Style. Happiest when her work allows others to shine, too. Lover of collabs, social media, blogging, fashion, food & the color blue.

  • Diamond Newman

    I just wanted to say thank you Olivia for asking the questions and thank you, Deana, for answering them. As a leader, a millennial, a doer, and a thinker, I am excited to hear about what other young people are doing and what they are doing to get there. A little piece of inspiration for me for the day.

    Thank you.

    My Best,
    Diamond Newman