Photo by Jeff Hobson

Born in England to a family of artists and art industry professionals, it is no surprise that David Setford would grow up to work in the arts, an appreciation of which is essentially part of his DNA. 

“It was always clear that I would be involved in the arts,” said Setford, executive director of the Tacoma Art Museum (TAM), as well as an avid painter. 

Setford’s family legacy includes a father who operated a brewery and was an ardent painter until his death in 2010, and a grandmother who curated prints for the National Library of France during the Nazi invasion. According to Setford, she was one of the individuals who helped to conceal various works of art from German acquisition. 

Setford started his career at a museum near his home in Waterford, England. He later married an American and, in 1990, moved to Florida, where he worked at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach for 10 years. He held various other positions in museums around the country before he finally landed in Tacoma earlier this year.

“I started working in this industry because I love art, (and) I like doing exhibitions,” Setford said. “But there is another function museums serve. They have a cultural role in society that can change people’s lives. When young people visit, they may see a view of a bigger and brighter world than they are growing up in. That’s special.”

Read on to learn more about how Setford and his staff participate in the Tacoma art scene.

Photos courtesy David Setford.


6 a.m.I enjoy a morning coffee and view of Commencement Bay as I start the day.


7 a.m.Often, I walk to work, but some days I need to stay dry, so I drive.


7:15 a.m. After checking the sky, I chanced it and enjoyed a brisk stroll across the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. It is always inspiring to see art first thing in the morning.


7:25 a.m.Joined by TAM’s upcoming Board Chair Connie Willis, I attend an interesting presentation during a Museum of Glass fundraiser.


10:30 a.m.During the school year and beyond, we see a lot of group tours come through TAM, especially groups of children. I tag along on one such tour and find these kids are demonstrating fantastic listening skills.


11 a.m.I check in with TAM Store Manager Zach Berry. He informs me that these tumblers, designed by local artist Jen Elek, are a favorite among patrons.


2 p.m. | I give a tour to residents from Frank Tobey Jones Senior Living. On the rare occasion that I get to give tours, I always learn something new from our visitors.


4 p.m.Holding to my British roots, an afternoon meeting can sometimes become a tea break.


4:45 p.m.I review a selection from the museum’s collection with Margaret Bullock, curator of collections and special exhibitions. Planning for our fall exhibition on French Impressionists — and their impact on the artists in the Pacific Northwest — allows me to exercise my curatorial skills.


6 p.m.After a long day, I like to unwind and reset for another busy week while watching some soccer coverage.