Today, the Walker Art Center Board of Trustees and Olga Viso announced that Viso will step down as executive director at the end of the year. Following the successful completion of the Walker’s $75-million capital campaign and an eight-year effort to transform the Walker’s entrance and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden into a unified art destination, the Board and Viso agreed that now is an ideal time for a transition. The Board will form a search committee to hire a new executive director. During the interim period, the Board has established an Office of the Executive Director—which includes Christopher Stevens, Chief Advancement Officer; Mary Polta, Chief Financial Officer; Siri Engberg, Senior Curator and Director of Exhibitions Management; and Rishi Donat, Director of Human Resources.
“We are grateful for Olga’s leadership and celebrate her significant contributions to the Walker Art Center during the past 10 years,” said Board President Monica Nassif. “She led the organization through a major capital campaign to fund the vision and redesign of our entire campus, including the new Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. In addition, she championed experimental and underrepresented artists throughout her tenure, while bringing many noteworthy exhibitions to the Walker, such as Merce Cunningham: Common Time, International Pop, and groundbreaking exhibitions like Adios Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950, one of the most comprehensive exhibitions of Cuban art to be organized in the US in decades and currently on view. We wish her well for her next career opportunity. As we look beyond this transition, the Walker Board is focused on fully activating the new campus, proceeding as a global artistic leader, continuing our commitments to be a more inclusive organization, and being responsive to community perspectives and political realities of this time.”
Viso’s ambitious vision for an integrated master plan was realized in June 2017 and supported by a successful $75-million fundraising effort. Under her leadership, the Walker grew its operating endowment, built a new garden-facing entrance and restaurant, improved circulation and way-finding, renovated the façade of the Walker’s 1971 building, and added gardens surrounding the art center along with 20 new art works. Among the new artworks are the first US and global commissions with artists Nairy Baghramian, Theaster Gates, Mark Manders, and Aaron Spangler, and the iconic blue rooster Hahn/Cock by Katharina Fritsch that immediately became a city icon. Nearly 600,000 people have visited the new gardens since they reopened in June 2017.
“It has been a privilege to lead this venerable contemporary arts institution the last 10 years and to support the work of some of the most compelling and adventurous international artists working today across disciplinary boundaries. Completing the vision for the campus that began in 2005 with the Walker’s Herzog and DeMeuron addition has been an absolute highlight. I am immensely proud of what we—the Walker’s talented and ambitious staff and the generous community of donors who stepped up boldly—have accomplished together,” Viso said.
Throughout her tenure, Viso has championed the support of emerging artists as well as cross-disciplinary programming, research and collecting. In 2011, she raised funds to secure a defining collection of objects from the Merce Cunningham Dance Archive that added nearly 4,000 props, sets, drops, and costumes by the revolutionary choreographer to the museum’s permanent collection. This collection, which positions the Walker as a research center for Cunningham’s work, was the subject of this year’s institutional celebration Merce Cunningham: Common Time that focused on Cunningham’s interdisciplinary collaborations. In 2016, a $1-million grant from the Mellon Foundation further positioned the Walker as a global leader in scholarship around the intersection of performance and visual arts. This initiative will support nine new commissions for artists through 2019 working across cinema, stage, garden, and galleries.
An expert in Latin American art, Viso oversaw curatorial projects at the Walker that included surveys of the Argentine painter Guillermo Kuitca and American sculptor Jim Hodges, special projects with the Guerrilla Girls, and initiatives around the Walker’s 75th anniversary in 2015, which brought nearly 250 new art works donated by more than 120 donors to the Walker’s collections. Viso has supported the development of groundbreaking Walker-curated exhibitions and publications organized by a talented curatorial team. These projects, including Yves Klein, Merce Cunningham: Common Time, International Pop, Hippie Modernism, have been critically recognized and also garnered wide public appeal.
Over the last decade, some 5,000 objects have entered the Walker’s collection. Viso’s collecting priorities have increased the representation of local artists, women and people of color, as well as brought greater global diversity and addressed gaps in the Walker’s historical holdings. Highlights include Siah Armajani, Luis Camnitzer, Marlene Dumas, Jimmie Durham, Jack Goldstein, Jim Hodges, Carmen Herrera, Alfredo Jaar, Hassan Khan, Lee Kit, Guillermo Kuitca, Joseph Kosuth, Ana Mendieta, Zilia Sanchez, Luc Tuymans, Lee Ufan, and Jack Whitten.
Viso has been a cultural leader nationally and locally, serving on the boards of the Association of Art Museum Directors and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. A keen collaborator, she has been active in city of Minneapolis downtown planning efforts and the West Downtown Cultural District. She was appointed by former President Barack Obama to serve on the National Council on the Arts that advises the National Endowment for the Arts and was a founding director of the Twin Cities Large Cultural Organizations Forum, a consortium of the 10 directors of the area’s largest cultural organizations focused on building institutional capacities around diversity and inclusion. During her tenure, the diversity of the Walker’s Board increased from 5 to 20 percent.