Patricia McDonnell, Ulrich Museum of Art’s dynamic executive director, plans to continue the community outreach, innovative programs and fun events that have earned her accolades and success when she steps into the Wichita Art Museum’s executive director position Aug. 20.
“I’m very excited. I’ve grown to love Wichita dearly,” McDonnell said. “It is heartening to take a professional step ahead and remain in a city I’ve grown to love.”
During her five years at Wichita State University’s Ulrich, McDonnell tripled public programs and substantially increased both attendance and private fundraising.
“Patricia has been a breath of fresh air for the Ulrich,” said Kelly Callen, chairwoman of the Ulrich’s advisory board. Before McDonnell came to the museum, Callen said, it was Wichita’s best-kept secret. Callen, who also serves on the Wichita Art Museum board, said that she hopes McDonnell can bring another well-kept secret to life — how amazing the Wichita Art Museum is.
“It (the Wichita Art Museum) probably has one of the top five American art collections,” Callen said. And because of an endowment, it has an extensive Steuben Glass collection as well.
At the Ulrich, Callen said, McDonnell transformed the lecture series into a fun event. She brought in internationally known photographers and artists and tried innovative projects, such as the Wichita Complaints Choir.
“With Pat, the openings have exploded,” Callen said. “The Ulrich has blossomed under her direction. What Pat can now do, is do for the art museum what she did for the Ulrich.”
McDonnell’s vacancy at the Ulrich will launch a national search for her replacement, she said.
She holds a doctorate and master of fine arts degree in art history from Brown University. In addition, she received certificates from the Getty Leadership Institute and the University of Washington’s School of Business.
She is a scholar of Early American Modernism — a time period, the 1890s through 1950s — from which the Wichita Art Museum holds much of its collection.
“The museum perfectly aligns with my research,” McDonnell said.
She said that she feels at home not only with this time period, but in the Midwest, having spent many of her growing-up years in Minnesota. After college, McDonnell returned to her hometown, where she served as curator of the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. She also was chief curator at the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington.
Jeff Kennedy, chairman of the board of trustees for the Wichita Art Museum, said the museum received many applications from across the country, but the board voted unanimously for McDonnell because of her abilities and background. The museum announced its news about selecting McDonnell as its new leader on Tuesday.
“The work she has done at the Ulrich has been outstanding,” Kennedy said. “This is an incredible opportunity for us to keep someone with a great track record of success. It is a plus for the Wichita Art Museum, and it’s a plus for the community.”
McDonnell succeeds Charles Steiner, who resigned as executive director at the end of 2011 after serving for 12 years.
The Wichita Art Museum opened in 1935 and is home to the Roland P. Murdock Collection, one of the premier collections of American art in the country. The city of Wichita owns and runs the art museum. However, the board of trustees hires the director.
McDonnell’s move from the Ulrich to the Wichita Art Museum will start in August and be complete by Sept. 15 following the Ulrich’s reopening after a nine-month renovation.
“You want the museum to operate as a living room to the community,” said McDonnell, who enjoys getting together and speaking with arts patrons. She credits her staff at the Ulrich with contributing to the museum’s success. “We’re all dreaming up and pulling off the creative.”
McDonnell goes from a staff of eight to 25. She said she hopes to continue creating.
“You may see the Wichita Art Museum expanding the programming,” McDonnell said. “It will need to have a similar level of imagination and creativity (as the Ulrich programming).”