After 16 years of visionary leadership, Walker Art Center director Kathy Halbreich has resigned her position and will leave the Walker on November 1, 2007. While an international search for her replacement is underway, Halbreich will continue to guide the institution, along with a transitional management team.
Halbreich began her tenure in 1991 as only the fourth director in the Walker’s history. She led the institution through its recent Herzog & de Meuron building expansion, a successful $100 million capital campaign, and the schematic phase for a beautiful new four-acre park designed by landscape architect Michel Desvigne that will complete the Walker campus. Under her leadership, the Walker diversified its audience, increased its civic and international presence, and expanded its mandate to present innovative multidisciplinary programming. With the Herzog & de Meuron facility beginning to realize its full potential and a strong senior staff in place, Halbreich has decided that it is an ideal time for a transition to new leadership.
“The Board provided me with a three-month sabbatical, which not only allowed me to reflect and recharge, but also gave me time to begin to imagine what lies ahead,” Halbreich said. “I have at least one more chapter in my professional life and, as I approach my 58th birthday, I want to be open to new challenges and opportunities. This exploration would be impossible while remaining director of this ambitious and remarkable institution. The Walker has many more chapters in its history and its patrons, staff, and board deserve a thoughtful transition as we collectively prepare for new leadership.
“My decision did not come easily, and it is difficult to convey how grateful I am for the opportunity to work closely with a most talented staff, an extremely devoted Board, a civic-minded community, and thousands of the most innovative artists from down the street and around the world. Collectively, I believe, we have made a difference by creating an accessible, multidisciplinary cultural center where the support of new ideas and new art is an everyday practice. I have no doubt that the Walker will attract an extraordinary new leader; one who will be supported, as I have been, by a diverse community of colleagues and citizens committed to excellence, risk-taking, and accessibility.”
“Kathy has been the Walker Art Center’s inspired, and inspiring, leader for more than 16 years,” said Steve Shank, president of the Walker’s Board of Directors. “Her creative vision has led the institution through a period of impressive growth, marked by the successful opening of our expanded facility. She is passionate about the artists the Walker presents, its role within Minneapolis and the global arts communities, and its extraordinary staff. Her leadership has made the Walker a more inviting and accessible institution for an increasingly diverse audience.
“We are very sad to see her go, and appreciate her characteristic commitment to the Walker during this moment of transition. As we look forward, we have the opportunity to build on our incredible accomplishments and the Walker’s international acclaim. When we opened our expanded campus to the public in 2005, we began a new phase in the institution’s history. We are confident that we will identify another visionary leader to build on this achievement.”
A transitional management team will work with Halbreich to provide continuity during this period of change. The team includes chief operating officer David Steglich, chief curator and deputy director Philippe Vergne, and development director Christopher Stevens, the senior managers who provided interim leadership during Halbreich’s recent sabbatical (September–December 2006).
Under Halbreich’s leadership, the Walker built on its past strengths to create a More Than a Museum model while realizing its mission to be a catalyst for the creative expression of artists and active engagement of audiences. Major gateway programs such as the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council as well as the immensely popular Free First Saturday and Target Free Thursday Nights were initiated by Halbreich. These programs serve as an international template for cultural institutions and have consistently welcomed new audiences to the Walker.
Expanding the Walker Collection and Programs
The Walker’s decades-long emphasis on commissioning and collecting innovative works by artists from around the world, along with its record of supporting and acquiring emerging and mid-career artists, distinguishes its collections. During Halbreich’s tenure the collection has grown from some 6,100 works in 1990 to nearly 10,000 pieces today. Acquisitions include works by Matthew Barney, Joseph Beuys, Katharina Fritsch, Robert Gober, Pierre Huyghe, Jasper Johns, Yves Klein, Kerry James Marshall, Julie Mehretu, Robert Motherwell, Bruce Nauman, Shirin Neshat, Guilio Paolini, Huang Yong Ping, Sigmar Polke, Kazuo Shiraga, Kiki Smith, and Kara Walker.
While at the Walker, Halbreich curated three exhibitions: Craigie Horsfield (1993) (co-curated with Joan Rothfuss); the retrospective Bruce Nauman (1994), which traveled throughout the United States and Europe (co-curated with Neal Benezra); and Bordering on Fiction: Chantal Akerman’s “D’Est” (1995), the first museum exhibition of the Belgian film director. Under Halbreich’s leadership, the Walker has presented groundbreaking and historical exhibitions such as In the Spirit of Fluxus (1993), “Brilliant” New Art from London (1995), Joseph Beuys Multiples (1997), Art Performs Life: Merce Cunningham/Meredith Monk/Bill T. Jones (1998), Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962–1972 (2001), How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age (2003), Chuck Close: Self-Portraits 1967–2005 (2005), Kiki Smith: A Gathering, 1980–2005 (2005), Huang Yong Ping: A Retrospective (2005), and Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love (2007). Frida Kahlo, the first major U.S. exhibition of this Mexican artist’s work in more than a decade, premieres at the Walker in October 2007.
In addition, the Walker has commissioned major new performing arts works from, among many others, new music creators Paul Dresher and Meredith Monk; choreographers Bill T. Jones, Eiko & Koma, Sarah Michelson, Ralph Lemon, and Joanna Haigood; jazz musicians and composers Lester Bowie and Jason Moran; and theater-performance artists Lee Breuer, Richard Maxwell, Sekou Sundiata, and Cynthia Hopkins; as well as a broad range of local artists and performers. Many of these performing arts commissions received critical acclaim both locally and globally. Commissions such as these realized Halbreich’s vision of the Walker as a “creative catalyst,” providing artists with the opportunities to push their work in new directions.
The Walker’s robust Web sites include mnartists.org (the ever-growing online resource of and for Minnesota artists developed in partnership with The McKnight Foundation) and walkerart.org, which combined to attract nearly 6.4 million visits annually. mnartists.org represents the dynamic Minnesota arts community via online portfolios, artistic forums, an arts calendar, and an e-zine (access+ENGAGE). ArtsConnectEd (artsconnected.org), a partnership with The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, is an Internet gateway that links teachers, parents, and students to both museums’ collections, libraries, archives, and curriculum materials. The Minnesota Department of Children, Families & Learning, through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature, provided early support to develop ArtsConnectEd. Recent enhancements to walkerart.org include Art on Call, a cell phone-based audio resource featuring artists and curators discussing selected artworks, which is also available in Podcast versions; and the Walker blogs which provide news and behind-the-scenes glimpses into the personalities, concerns, and artists that make the Walker unique.
Foundation and Fundraising Successes
Halbreich’s tenure, during which contributions more than doubled from $3.4 million to $7.5 million in the most recently completed fiscal year, is marked by a number of generous and competitive grants, including $1.5 million from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to establish a performing arts endowment for commissioning and presenting jazz and dance programs (1998); $500,000 from The Pew Charitable Trusts to fund artist residencies and related educational programs designed to engage surrounding neighborhoods (1999–2003); and two grants from the Bush Foundation: $1 million to fund a global initiative to support international artistic programming (1999–2002), and $725,000 to develop artist residencies and commissions across disciplines, conduct new audience engagement research, and to create dedicated learning spaces offering alternative learning styles and greater access to the collections and resources (2003–2006). A $2 million challenge grant from The Kresge Foundation was awarded upon the successful completion of the Walker’s recent capital campaign (2006); and major funding from the McKnight Foundation enabled the new media initiatives department to redesign the mnartists.org Web site, a critical resource for Minnesota artists and a national model for the support of artists and arts organizations.
Over the past 10 years, the Wallace Foundation has provided vital support as the Walker has deepened the connections between artists and audiences and defined a new model for a 21st-century cultural institution. A 1994 grant from the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund supported “New Definitions/New Audiences,” an institution-wide project that expanded the accessibility of the collection for new as well as traditional audiences. Throughout the grant period the Walker focused on making the education and community programs department a full partner in program planning; strengthened programs for previously underserved audiences, including low-income families and teens; analyzed ways that new technologies can assist in engaging audiences; and developed an acquisitions strategy for a growing collection that is both international and multidisciplinary in scope. In 2000, the Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund’s $1.25 million Leadership and Excellence in Arts Participation (LEAP) grant allowed for the enhancement of the Artist-in-Residence initiative, the popular Free Thursdays program, community programming in the mobile art lab Walker on Wheels, and interactive Web-based programs. A 2006 Wallace Foundation Excellence award of $2 million is providing vital support for ensuring that the Walker’s expanded facility be a place of convergence, bringing, artists, art forms, and audiences together in innovative ways.
Halbreich Professional Summary
Halbreich was honored with the prestigious Award for Curatorial Excellence by The Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College (April 2005); was included in ArtReview magazine’s Power 100, a ranking of the most influential figures in the art world today (November 2004); and was chosen by ARTnews magazine (August 1995) as one of The 50 Most Powerful People in the Art World. Newsweek magazine (July 31, 1995) cited her accomplishments by including her among 100 of the most compelling and important professionals; and Vanity Fair (November 1998) named her one of America’s Most Influential Women.
Prior to joining the Walker, Halbreich was the founding curator of the Department of Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1988–1991), and director of the Albert and Vera List Visual Arts Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1976–1986). While at M.I.T., she worked with architect I.M. Pei and artists Scott Burton, Richard Fleischner, and Kenneth Noland to design the List Visual Arts Center, a collaboration that became a national model for architects and artists working together. Halbreich has served as a curatorial advisor for the Carnegie International (1988) and as Commissioner for the North American region for the first Kwangju Biennale in Kwangju, Korea (1995). She currently serves on the board of Achieve!Minneapolis, which generates financial support for Minneapolis public schools. She has served on the National Endowment for the Arts Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibitions, on the boards of Twin Cities Public Television, St Paul; The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York; Piper Jaffray Companies, Inc., Minneapolis; and the International Selection Committee for Documenta 10 (1993–1994), in Kassel, Germany. Halbreich graduated from Bennington College in 1971 with a double degree in Literature and Visual Arts.