Looking back on Kathy Halbreich’s 16 years as director of the Walker Art Center, it’s difficult to capture her uncommon vision, the wide reach of her collaborations and associations, and the many bold risks that ended as wild successes, or to measure the ever-expanding ripples of influence her presence here has set off.
Kathy’s professional triumphs are many, including these highlights: the groundbreaking Bruce Nauman exhibition she curated in 1994; the implementation of a new Walker mission statement that emphasizes the engagement of both artists and audiences and a deeper understanding of society on individual, community, and global levels; the founding in 1997 of the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC), now a national model for youth programs in contemporary art; inclusion as one of America’s Most Influential Women in Vanity Fair (1998); the Herzog & de Meuron building expansion and its accompanying $100 million capital campaign in 2004–2005; and a 2005 award for curatorial excellence from Bard College.
But behind each success is a vast network of relationships — intellectual, civic, aesthetic, social, creative — and each one, Kathy says, she has prized. As a farewell, we asked friends from these many spheres to share their reflections on Kathy’s time here. Over the next days and weeks, we’ll do a series of posts sharing their thoughts. We invite you to leave your goodbyes, wishes, and musings in comments.
But first, a note from Kathy:
“What I have loved most about my tenure at the Walker are the people — the opportunity to think, imagine, conspire, and work beside the most convincing and talented people on Earth. I give profound thanks to one and all: from an increasingly diverse audience, both local and beyond (who cared and came, bravely following our curatorial and interpretative breadcrumbs); to the teens (who taught me that it was crucial to give people permission to ask tough questions); to patrons and sponsors (who were fearless advocates for the risks necessary to create something new and, often, lasting); to my director colleagues (who helped me understand the traditions of this honorable trade); to the Walker board (who took so little credit and, in sharing a faith in the intimate connection between civic and aesthetic aspirations, enjoyed providing a platform for innovation and possibility); to the extraordinary Walker staff (whose creative brilliance, can-do spirit, and ethical maturity were focused on a larger good that made me look good); and most importantly, to the artists (who gave me the confidence to search for my own inner voice by daring to reveal so much). Honestly, this was a position that allowed us, friends, to collectively learn from each other about all the ways in which art has meaning and matters. I am honored to have had such privilege and to have enjoyed such freedom. In return, I hope I have been a good citizen and a decent person.
Finally, I want to thank my family, who fed me when I was exhausted.
While my emotions fluctuate unpredictably as I leave the institution I adore most in a community that has defined generosity for me, I know the Walker always will be a model and, as such, a calling rather than a job. I will take great pleasure in watching the Walker grow and, under new leadership, be better yet.”
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Please share your thoughts on Kathy and her time here in comments.