The Wichita Art Museum is about to go into hyperdrive.
Patricia McDonnell, the museum’s new director, is ready to paint walls, invite in the community and introduce out-of-the-box events.
“We will be doing so much,” McDonnell said. “There are hundreds of things that we contribute to the vibrancy of the city.”
A committee chose McDonnell to lead the museum last spring. But because of her obligations to Wichita State University’s Ulrich Museum of Art, where she had been executive director since 2007, she didn’t “officially” begin work at the Wichita Art Museum until earlier this fall.
But McDonnell, who holds a PhD in art history, never let an eight-hour day or a paycheck stop her.
She started to meet with volunteers, Wichita Art Museum staff and directors from neighboring museums right away. McDonnell said she hopes to show the community that the museum is an exciting, welcoming environment for all.
From yarn wrapping to singing about complaints, her projects as the Ulrich executive director added vibrancy to the museum. A search for her replacement at the Ulrich is under way.
“We want to be a place of action and activity,” McDonnell said.
Her first project at the Wichita Art Museum was to clean the flooded patio area in the back of the building. She’s having the area re-graded and expanded and said she hopes to use this setting as an outdoor meeting place, a possible stage for events and maybe even a sculpture garden.
On Friday, she introduces Wichita Art Chatter. The event kicks off at 6 p.m. with a cash bar reception and is described as a mix of an open-mic night and cocktail party/happy hour with a lineup of local artists, musicians and architects sharing their thoughts. It enables a string of presenters to introduce 20 slides in 20 seconds. The event is aimed to be fast-paced, informative and fun.
“It will be a very precise and encapsulated presentation,” McDonnell said.
Another Art Chatter will follow on Nov. 30. McDonnell hopes this cocktail hour presentation will bring in new faces. Writer Jedd Beaudoin, musician Mark Foley, graphic designer Bill Gardner, architect Elizabeth Stevenson and artist Kent Williams will be a part of these free events.
McDonnell is hoping to get chefs, fashion designers and all types of artists involved.
“We want the youthful and the young-at-heart to link arms,” she said.
McDonnell said she loves to build bridges within the community and across generations. She hopes to garner more volunteers, introduce more schoolchildren to the wonder of art and invite more organizations to use the museum.
“There are various different studies out there that link art to the economic prosperity of a city,” McDonnell said. A vibrant arts community translates to lower crime rates and higher test scores, she said.
“I want to find ways to put out a creative welcome mat to the community,” she said.
This creativity may include all types of artists, including actors. McDonnell and Wayne Bryan, head of Music Theatre of Wichita, are bouncing around ideas for a joint show at the museum.
On Dec. 1, the museum is joining with the other museums on the river for a community-wide open house.
McDonnell also hopes to make the art museum a destination for the holidays. The Friends of WAM, one of the museum’s volunteer organizations, is reinstating a Holiday Open House. The Dec. 15 event will feature crafts, artwork, live music and a visit from Santa Claus.
“I want to stretch people’s imaginations,” McDonnell said. “To be a dynamic center, you need to do things that are creative and imaginative.”