University of Kentucky staff and Art Museum at the University of Kentucky supporters met the first of three candidates for executive director of the museum this week.
Tim Close, whose last job was director and CEO of the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Wash., met with about three dozen people at an open forum Wednesday afternoon in the President’s Room at the Singletary Center for the Arts.
In an hour-long session, Close read brief prepared remarks and took a range of questions from the audience about the museum’s place in the community, it’s challenges and his own managerial style.
“I think this museum is a wonderful museum, but it is somewhat hidden,” Close said, addressing one of the major concerns about the museum that has been expressed by numerous people including his potential predecessor, retiring director Kathy Walsh-Piper.
Early in the presentation, Close elicited some uneasy laughter by asking how many UK students were in the session, and the answer was none.
“We need to engage with students and ask them what kind of museum they want and what they want from the museum,” Close said. “We struggle with an aging demographic and our philanthropic base is growing smaller.”
Close said that while some museum directors are loathe to fundraise, he recognizes that as one of his primary charges.
“I am a successful fundraiser,” he said. “I have asked for gifts from $1,000 to $1 million and gotten them.”
One theme he returned to answering a number of questions was, “Have a clear mission and vision of what a museum can be.” He also returned to the idea that, “the museum needs to be for everybody,” and discussed different ways that technology can be used in the venue and online to make it more welcoming.
Close called himself a museum junkie and expressed a particular fondness for the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Va., next to his home town of Virginia Beach.
Asked by a member of the audience about a perception that the forthcoming 21c Museum Hotel might be perceived as Lexington’s flagship museum, Close said he was excited by the prospect of working with 21c, the Lexington Art League and any other entities in town to raise the profile of the visual arts.
Close also fielded questions related to the university, both in the location and working within the university structure. He acknowledged he had not previously worked at an academic institution but drew a parallel to municipal governments he had worked with before on issues from expanding facilities to dealing with parking.
He cited developing the Children’s Museum of Virginia in Portsmouth as a case of successfully selling local government on a vision for a project. Presented with the major parking issues that face the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky, where most parking is taken up by UK students and staff during museum hours, he acknowledged that might be difficult to address but said when issues like that arise, the museum needs to counterbalance that by making the patron’s visit as good as it can be.
“We need to establish a culture that says, ‘We’re about people,’” Close said. “We hope that people will come to the museum and have a transformative experience, but we at least want to make sure you have a nice time.”
The next candidate to visit will be Stuart Horodner, curator and artistic director at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, Jan. 27. His open forum will be at 4:15 p.m. Jan. 27 in the Singletary Center for the Arts Concert Hall.
Here are links to notes about the other two candidates: