Any cultural institution must exercise uncommon foresight and imagination in hiring a new chief executive these days – the very qualities required to run such a place at such a challenging time. It can’t hurt if the person knows the territory. Patricia McDonnell offers that and more to the Wichita Art Museum, the 77-year-old jewel in the crown of the arts community.
As WAM’s newly hired executive director, McDonnell replaces Charles Steiner, who came from the Art Museum at Princeton University in New Jersey and led the museum for 12 years.
McDonnell’s move will only be across town, effective Aug. 20.
Though she has served as curator of the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and chief curator at the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington state, since 2007 she’s been the executive director of Wichita State University’s Ulrich Museum of Art, where she proved successful in overseeing a major renovation and drawing visitors and private dollars.
McDonnell will need such talents at the Wichita Art Museum, which sees about 59,000 annual visitors and relies on donations as well as City Hall funding to support and safeguard its city-owned collection.
At WAM, McDonnell will be newly at the center of not only the arts scene but also downtown redevelopment and the museum district.
She will be important to making the case for continued investment in arts by the city of Wichita through its cultural funding program during a period of tough city budgets.
She also will find herself the museum’s ambassador to the community and far beyond.
Fortunately for Wichita and museum lovers, her scholarship in Early American Modernism aligns perfectly with the Wichita Art Museum’s standout collection of nearly 7,000 works.
She also seems especially well positioned to strengthen the museum’s ties to the Ulrich, WSU and other area cultural and educational entities.
“In art museums, for professional advancement, one moves,” she told WSU’s Sunflower newspaper. “This is a professional step forward and yet I get to stay in Wichita. I get to stay in town and retain my relationship with all those people and it’s just thrilling.”
Now, Wichita should ensure McDonnell succeeds in making the most of the community treasure that is the Wichita Art Museum, by favoring it not only with attendance and financial support but also enthusiasm.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman