The Current Situation and Opportunity
For the Milwaukee Art Museum’s next Chief Curator, it is an opportune time to join a vibrant, healthy organization which has weathered the global pandemic successfully and is experiencing a vibrant and active reopening. As the Chief Curator will lead a significant effort under the Museum’s new strategic direction, this individual must be philosophically, conceptually, and tactically aligned with the vision for the Museum as a place for all individuals to better understand themselves, each other, and our world through new and innovative approaches to the presentation of art.
The Chief Curator reports to the Museum’s Director and is a member of the Senior Leadership Team, providing leadership, strategic direction, stewardship, administrative and managerial oversight for the Museum’s curatorial departments. Serving as a cultural change agent and conduit for translating the Museum’s overall vision into action, this executive will have primary day-to-day responsibility for integrating the work of 7 direct reports (Assistant, Administrator, Curator of Photography & Media Arts, Curator of European Art, Curator of American Art, Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings, Curator of Contemporary Art, and the Curator of Design) and overall total of 14 staff leading the curatorial work of the Museum, and the presentation of the collection with 21st-century strategies to engage visitors and expand the Museum’s reach and impact.
In collaboration with the Museum Director, the next Chief Curator sets the tone and substance of curatorial initiatives by working with curators and curatorial staff to creatively utilize the collection and exhibitions to engage, educate, and expand participation, with the overall objective of enlivening the institution and enhancing its reputation locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. The Chief Curator will lead publication activities and exhibition planning and schedule that aligns with and supports the Museum’s strategic priorities and mission objectives.
About Milwaukee Art Museum (website)
A comprehensive art institution and cultural cornerstone for the Greater Milwaukee region, the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) has become an icon for the city and a resource for the entire state. Prominently situated on the shore of Lake Michigan, the Museum was founded over 125 years ago and is the largest and most significant art museum in Wisconsin. The Museum’s campus comprises three interconnected buildings: the original Eero Saarinen War Memorial Center (1957), the Kahler Building (1975) by David Kahler, and the celebrated Santiago Calatrava–designed Quadracci Pavilion, completed in 2001, which showcases both Museum-produced and traveling feature exhibitions. In 2016, after a yearlong renovation, the Museum reopened its Collection Galleries, debuting nearly 2,500 world-class works of art within dramatically transformed galleries and a new lakefront addition. This reimagined space also allows for the presentation of additional changing exhibitions.
The Collection (website)
Four floors of over 40 galleries of art are rotated regularly with works from antiquity to the present in the Museum’s far-reaching collection of more than 30,000 works, which spans 15th-to-20th-century European and 17th-to-20th-century American paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, decorative arts, photographs, and folk and self-taught art. Among the best in the nation are the Museum’s holdings in American decorative arts, German expressionism, folk and Haitian art, and American art after 1960.
The Museum is the world’s leading repository for work by self-taught artists and stewards the works of other prominent artists including Nardo di Cione, Francisco de Zurbarán, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Winslow Homer, Auguste Rodin, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Jóan Miro, Mark Rothko, Robert Gober, and Andy Warhol.
Among the notable works associated with the Milwaukee Art Museum is the Mrs. Harry L. Bradley Collection. Assembled by Mrs. Bradley during the second half of the 20th century, the Bradley Collection contains important European and American paintings, prints, watercolors, and sculpture from the late 1800s to the early 1970s. Work includes Fauve paintings by Georges Braque and Maurice de Vlaminck, seminal Expressionist paintings by Wassily Kandinsky, Gabriele Münter, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and a significant collection of work by Georgia O’Keeffe. A generous challenge grant from the Bradleys gave rise to the construction of the Bradley Wing at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 1975, which features Mrs. Harry L. Bradley’s impressive collection.
Additionally, the Museum maintains important partnerships with the Chipstone Foundation and Layton Art Collection whose collections are integral to the experience of art at MAM and have fostered a series of innovative exhibitions and curatorial research.
Central to the Museum’s mission is its role as a premier educational resource, with programs that are among the largest in the nation, involving classes, lectures, tours, and a full calendar of events for all ages.
Urban living and a Midwest ambiance combine to provide an ideal work-life balance for modern living. Short commute times, big city amenities, diverse and affordable neighborhoods, below-average cost of living, an abundance of natural resources and a nationally recognized education system all come together during an unprecedented time of opportunity and growth.
Milwaukee has become a preferred destination for millennials. One reason is the beauty and abundance of natural resources in southeastern Wisconsin. Another reason is that Milwaukee has been a leader in creating walkable and sustainable communities. Twenty years ago, the city began work on the RiverWalk, which transformed the downtown and made it a hotbed of entertainment and downtown living opportunities.
No single neighborhood in Milwaukee is the same, and you’ll soon find Milwaukee celebrates many diverse backgrounds and ethnicities through the food scene, music scene, and festivals, including Milwaukee Pridefest. Though most Milwaukeeans are American by birth, they are proud of their cultural heritage. Thirty-eight percent of Milwaukee residents report having some German ancestry. Other ethnic groups include: African (15 percent), Polish (13 percent), Hispanic (11 percent), Irish (10 percent), English (5 percent), French (4 percent), Italian (4 percent), Asian and Pacific Islander (4 percent), and American Indian (1 percent).
Milwaukee is home to a large and active LGBTQ community that offers support resources and sponsors film festivals and social activities, including PrideFest Milwaukee, an annual three-day celebration held on Milwaukee’s lakefront.
Milwaukee is a cultural center offering a wealth of opportunities to attend plays, operas, symphonies and chamber music, thanks to an arts community that is well supported by metro-area residents. No city, except Los Angeles, raises more private money for the arts than Milwaukee. The city is home to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Ballet, the Florentine Opera, the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, and the Skylight Theatre. Additionally, Milwaukee Film supports the local film industry and hosts an annual film festival that takes place in the historic Oriental Theatre and additional locations around the city.
Finally, a strong and growing business community is the foundation of Milwaukee. The region boasts global manufacturers, leading technology firms, innovative service firms, and strong financial institutions. Select Fortune 500 companies include: Northwestern Mutual, Kohl’s, ManpowerGroup, WEC Energy Group, Rockwell Automation, Fiserv, and Harley-Davidson.
Main Focus and Key Responsibilities
The Chief Curator is the leader of curatorial practice, scholarship, and programming for the Milwaukee Art Museum with a keen eye for activating the Museum’s permanent collection, spearheading a dynamic exhibition program, and advancing the Strategic Direction – fulfilling a promise that great works of art can transform a city while at the same time touching our individual lives as well.
The Chief Curator will work in close coordination and partnership with the Museum’s Deputy Director and Chief Experience Officer on matters pertaining to collection management practices, gallery and exhibition design and installation, conservation treatment and preservation of works of art, and the support of curatorial scholarship through the Museum’s library and archives. The Chief Curator and Deputy Director will also partner closely on the design of experiences for the public that transform their understanding and personal connection to works of art, themselves, and our larger community.
The Chief Curator will uphold the Museum’s commitments to diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion in all programming, exhibition, and staffing decisions as outlined in the strategic direction. They will contribute to a values-based culture by demonstrating and requiring adherence to the highest ethical standards.
Other areas of responsibility include the following:
Exhibition Strategy and Planning
- Spearhead development of a comprehensive three- to five-year programmatic calendar for the Museum’s collections, galleries, and featured exhibitions that showcase the breadth of the collection and works outside of MAM’s collection for the purpose of effectively engaging multiple constituencies.
- Manage high-level aspects of the exhibition schedule, assuring an appropriate balance of exhibitions. Ensure that the exhibition themes and ideas set forth are presented in a timely manner and within budget parameters.
- Develop and monitor departmental and exhibition budgets, contracts, agreements, and other administrative documents.
Collections Care and Management
- Advocate for internal initiatives that modernize, streamline, and integrate collection content, aligned with industry standards and using existing and new processes, to better communicate and connect with defined stakeholders and the general public, onsite and via the web.
- Assess curatorial functions, priorities, and processes to ensure efficiencies, excellence, and alignment with museum best practices and AAM accreditation standards.
- Collaborate in identifying and shepherding acquisitions and deaccessions; facilitate decisions on exhibition loan requests and long-term loan opportunities.
- Collaborate with curators and conservators in prioritizing conservation initiatives
- Encourage and celebrate the talents of the team while holding each accountable to institutional goals. Serve as a mentor and coach to staff in order to strengthen leadership skills, team dynamics, and collaboration within curatorial groups and across the Museum’s other departments.
- Create opportunities for professional growth and advancement for existing curatorial staff in addition to a robust program of curatorial assistantships and fellowships that offer opportunity for professional curatorial experience to early career talent – especially from communities often under-represented among the Museum’s curatorial staff.
- Keep department staff informed with routine meetings and open communications regarding activities planned and happening in the curatorial teams, and other departments across the Museum campus.
- Recruit, hire, manage performance, and facilitate the training of staff as necessary.
- Collaborate with staff across the organization regarding exhibition, collection-management, presentation, interpretation, publication, and archive strategies consistent with key initiatives, goals, and objectives of the Museum.
- Work collaboratively with the Curator of Community Dialogue to ensure that the presence and voices of community members are integrated into exhibition programming and the presentation of the permanent collection. Coordinate with the Curator of Community Dialogue on the presentation of community-led programs in the Museum’s galleries and exhibition spaces.
- Work collaboratively with the Chief Development Officer in the cultivation of donors and general fundraising activities to benefit the acquisitions, conservation, exhibitions & publications, education and audience engagement programs.
- Work collaboratively with the Senior Director of Education and Programs to inform interpretation and audience engagement initiatives for collections and exhibitions.
- Keep trustees and related committees informed on exhibition plans. Participate in Board meetings and standing committees of the Board; be the staff liaison for the Acquisitions & Collections Committee.
- Represent the Museum in professional, academic, and social forums with local/regional, national, and international colleagues and the broader cultural community through exhibition and research programs.
- Provide private and public presentations; widely represent the curatorial interests of the Museum.
The ideal candidate will have the following professional and personal qualities, skills, and characteristics:
Innovative Approach to Interpretation and Display
The Museum’s commitment to activating the collection and redefining the scope, goals, and methodologies of the artistic program are at an inflection point. It is imperative that the next Chief Curator demonstrate leadership and passion for broad as well as deep narrative and storytelling approaches that connect the Museum’s current, future, and prospective experiences to the works of art on view.
Strategic Leadership and Management Acumen
With previous senior-level museum experience expected, the Chief Curator is skilled at building and leading high-performing, diverse teams of the highest degree of professionalism and guiding team members’ growth and development. The Chief Curator has the ability to set clear priorities, delegate, and guide investment in people and systems. The successful candidate will be an open-door, inclusive leader and manager of the highest integrity, with the ability to motivate, inspire, and unite staff around a shared vision. The Chief Curator will have excellent interpersonal skills, be systematic, detail oriented, patient, a self-starter who works well under pressure. This individual manages time efficiently, analyzes and solves problems collaboratively, and at times independently in a timely manner. The Chief Curator will exude an ability to embrace change and adapt easily to changing priorities.
The Chief Curator will have a sophisticated understanding and passion for art and art history, the materials, techniques, and condition of art objects, along with a robust record of exhibitions and scholarly publications. The Chief Curator will have demonstrable success conceptualizing, designing, and executing creative and innovative exhibitions on complex subjects designed to appeal to broad audiences, and will be adept at working with the staff to bring them to life. The Chief Curator has an ability to prioritize and manage multiple projects simultaneously.
Building Relationships and Using Influence
Embracing the Museum’s culture while continually innovating alongside the leadership team, Trustees, staff, and volunteers, the Chief Curator will help expand the Museum’s brand and reach. The successful candidate must establish rapport and cultivate relationships across all levels of the Museum, including serving as a consultative thought-leader and partner to the Director and the Senior Leadership Team as a whole. The Chief Curator will have a demonstrated ability to connect with and build bridges with members, visitors, community leaders, and donors. They will have a robust network of colleagues and collaborators in and outside of the art museum field. The Chief Curator will be comfortable in the broader arts and cultural community to advance the mission of MAM locally, nationally, and internationally. They will possess a high-level of cross-cultural competency and embrace the value found in our differences in all forms. This leader will have excellent presentation, verbal, and written communication skills.
Donor and Collector Cultivation and Engagement
The Chief Curator will play a seminal role in the Museum’s upcoming capital campaign, building and stewarding donor relationships to advance the goals of this initiative and to build support for the artistic program overall. The Chief Curator will serve as an ambassador for the artistic program of the Museum and regularly participate in fundraising and stewardship activity as coordinated by the Museum’s development team. To achieve success in this area, the Chief Curator will demonstrate strong emotional intelligence, ability to relate to individuals from diverse backgrounds and expressing diverse viewpoints, and to cultivate, over time, numerous connections to the exhibition, collection, and artistic mandate of the Museum.
Passion for the Mission
Fully embracing the mission of the Milwaukee Art Museum, the relationship with the community, and the commitment to its various stakeholders, the Chief Curator is someone who has an anchor in history and understands how historic collections intersect with our contemporary world. The ideal candidate will possess and promote a deep appreciation for the collections, buildings, history, research, and scholarship and will demonstrate a commitment to public engagement and the visitor experience. The Chief Curator will have a strong work ethic coupled with an assertive but non-abrasive manner; a highly energetic, hands-on individual. High emotional intelligence and an earned reputation for effectively cultivating relationships with peers/colleagues within and across institutions is expected, along with a sense of humor, and evidence of a commitment to lifelong learning and professional growth.
Advanced degree in art history, fine arts, museum administration, or commensurate experience required; PhD preferred. Expertise in European and American modernism (1890-1950) preferred. Working knowledge and experience with TMS, Raisers Edge, and Microsoft Office Suite applications is also preferred.
Stephen Milbauer and Naree W.S. Viner of Koya Leadership Partners have been exclusively retained for this search. To express your interest in this role please submit your materials here or email Stephen directly at [email protected]. All inquiries and discussions will be considered strictly confidential.
At Koya, we don’t just accept difference – we celebrate it, support it, and thrive on it for the benefit of our team, our clients, and the communities we serve. Koya is an equal opportunity employer fully committed to creating an environment and team that represents a variety of backgrounds, perspectives, styles, and experiences.
About Koya Partners
Koya Partners, a part of Diversified Search Group, is a leading executive search and strategic advising firm dedicated to connecting exceptionally talented people with mission-driven clients. Our founding philosophy—The Right Person in the Right Place Can Change the World—guides our work as we partner with nonprofits & NGOs, institutions of higher education, responsible businesses, and social enterprises in local communities and around the world.
For more information about Koya Partners, visit www.koyapartners.com.