Search begins for new art museum director

Two weeks after the historic reopening of the U-M Museum of Art, a nationwide search commences to find its next director.

The pursuit of UMMA's top administrator will focus on who can best lead the on-campus cultural treasure as it continues its transformation as a pre-eminent university museum based on size, extensive collection, innovative exhibition schedule and mission of inclusivity.

The new leader will succeed outgoing UMMA Director James Steward, who guided the museum through a $41.9-million restoration and expansion. Steward, museum director and faculty member since 1998, will leave within the next few weeks to begin his new post as director of the Princeton University Art Museum. He accepted the position at Princeton in January.

"UMMA is one of the region's true cultural gems, and the next director's mission will be to find innovative ways to further open the museum to the U-M community and beyond," says President Mary Sue Coleman, who established a search advisory committee that includes faculty, staff, alumni, administrators, students and community members.

Steward's tenure is distinguished by his notable record of fundraising along with his collaboration in the renovation of Alumni Hall and construction of the new museum wing. He is credited with transforming the museum mission from an inward-looking space to a thought-provoking venue tailored to the expectations of contemporary museum visitors. During his tenure, attendance doubled the average number of visitors per year to about 140,000.

Since opening on March 28, the impact of the newly restored and expanded museum has been immediate and impressive. Nearly 24,000 visitors streamed through UMMA during the opening week, including 5,500 students at a preview event. National and regional arts critics hailed the architectural design and arrangements of galleries, which showcase pieces from the museum's 19,000-piece collection.

"With the current economic downturn, there is a pressing need to find solace and perspective, and the art museum will play a vital role in building community and serving as a town hall for the free exchange of ideas," says Provost Teresa Sullivan, who chairs the search committee.

Located at a world-class research university, UMMA is in the position to be a catalyst for a broader discourse on the role of creativity across disciplines. A primary task of the new director is to build strong alliances among U-M's myriad academic units and foster an atmosphere of collaboration.

Throughout Steward's term as director, he sought to draw connections among academic disciplines. For instance, he pointed to how the observation skills of medical researchers and physicians were sharpened through prolonged critical assessment of art.

The next director will build on the success and critical acclaim of the recent opening, and continue to transform UMMA into a "hip, contemporary town hall, a place for lively debate and inspiring atmosphere," Sullivan says.

Interested applicants should contact the U-M Museum of Art Search Advisory Committee at umma.search.chair@umich.edu.

In addition to Sullivan, members of the search advisory committee include: Jan Brandon, UMMA National Advisory Board member; Celeste Brusati, chair, Department of History of Art, LSA; David Chung, program director, Korean Studies, LSA; Kenneth Fischer, president, University Musical Society; Maxine Frankel, UMMA National Advisory Board member; Chacona Johnson (retired) associate vice president for development; Jerry May, vice president for development; Monica Ponce de Leon, dean, Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning; Marianetta Porter, professor of art, School of Art & Design; Bryan Rogers, dean, School of Art & Design; Raymond Silverman, director, Museum Studies Program; Marin Sullivan, doctoral student, Department of History of Art, LSA; Jenna Utter, undergraduate student and president, Society for Art Students, School of Art & Design; and Neal Warling, president, UMMA Friends Board.