At SAM, Kim Rorschach Retires as Amada Cruz Steps In

Posted in museums by Editor on September 27, 2019

This month Amada Cruz succeeds Kimerly Rorschah as Director and CEO of of the Seattle Art Museum. Rorschach did her PhD at Yale in the 1980s, writing on Frederick, Prince of Wales. At the University of Chicago, she was director of the Smart Museum of Art before going on to serve as the founding director of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Kim graciously served on my dissertation committee at Chicago, offering invaluable advice and wisdom. A few words here don’t begin to express my debts of gratitude, but I feel profoundly fortunate to have been one of her students. Craig Hanson

From the press release (10 June 2019) . . .

Amada Cruz previously served as Director and CEO of the Phoenix Art Museum. Photo by Airi Katsuta.

The Board of Trustees of the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) announced today that Amada Cruz has been chosen as the museum’s new Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO following an extensive international search. Since February 2015, Ms. Cruz has served as the Sybil Harrington Director and CEO of the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona, the largest art museum in the Southwestern United States. She will assume her position at SAM in September, succeeding Kimerly Rorschach who will be retiring.

In her role at SAM—comprising the downtown Seattle Art Museum, the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park, and the Olympic Sculpture Park on the downtown waterfront—Cruz will oversee the institution’s wide-ranging artistic and education programs and manage a staff of more than 300.

“I am so excited about moving to one of the most progressive, innovative, and fastest-growing cities in the country. As an immigrant, Seattle’s embrace of diversity and commitment to inclusion certainly strikes a chord,” says Cruz. “Across its three stunning locations, SAM offers incredibly varied cultural experiences. It’s a particularly exciting opportunity to reintroduce the spectacular Asian Art Museum’s building and collection to the city this fall. And I am honored to be following the enlightened leadership of Kimerly Rorschach. She has been a model of a 21st-century museum director, connecting with communities and expanding the range of artists exhibiting at the museum and entering its collection. I’m looking forward to continuing SAM’s commitment to welcoming everyone.”

“After an exhaustive search with an impressive array of candidates, it’s clear that Amada Cruz is the forward-thinking leader we’re seeking,” said Charles Wright, SAM trustee and chair of the search committee. “Amada’s strong vision, extensive experience as both a curator and a fundraiser, and keen understanding of the power of the visual arts will undoubtedly help her take SAM to the next level.”

“Like the city of Seattle, the museum is always evolving and moving forward,” said Stewart Landefeld, SAM Board of Trustees Chair. “Kim’s incredible leadership has brought SAM to a vital and stable present, and Amada is the right person to lead it into an ambitious future along with SAM’s talented staff, dedicated volunteers, and committed Board of Trustees.”

During her tenure at the Phoenix Art Museum (PAM), Cruz set ambitious goals to increase diversity and create a culture of inclusion and accessibility. She oversaw a series of initiatives designed to improve financial stability, strengthen community engagement, and build national visibility. PAM attracted key national funders in support of the museum’s mission; introduced more Latinx and bilingual educational programming; and increased diversity across exhibitions and installations, presenting works by artists of color, LGBTQI+ artists, and women artists, including a retrospective for modern artist Agnes Pelton that will travel to the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2020.

Over her 30-year career, Cruz has held posts as the Executive Director at San Antonio-based Artpace, an artist residency program; Director of the Center for Curatorial Studies Museum at Bard College, where she co-organized the first US museum survey of Takashi Murakami’s work; and Acting Chief Curator and Manilow Curator of Exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

Cruz has also worked as a grantmaker and was the founding Program Director for United States Artists in Los Angeles, where she formed longstanding relationships with artists around the country and was responsible for all programming activities of a Ford and Rockefeller Foundations initiative. She also has been Executive Director of Artadia: The Fund for Art and Dialogue in New York City, which awarded grants to visual artists in San Francisco, Houston, and Chicago.

Born in Havana, Cuba, Cruz received a Bachelor’s degree in Art History and Political Science at New York University. She received the 2018 Virginia Cardenas Arts Advocacy Award by Xico, an Arizona cultural institution serving Latinx and Indigenous artists. In 2015, W Magazine named her one of the 11 most powerful female museum directors in America.

“I am absolutely delighted that Amada Cruz has been named to lead SAM into the future. She is an experienced professional of the highest integrity and brings an exciting vision for the future of our great museum,” says Kimerly Rorschach, SAM Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO. “She has a profound love of art and a deep commitment to increasing access for all. I know that she will keep the museum moving forward in our dynamic city and region.”

From the press release (31 October 2018) announcing Kim Rorschach’s retirement:

Kimerly Rorschach became director of the Seattle Art Museum in November 2012. Photo by Scott Areman.

Kimerly Rorschach, Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO of the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), announced today that she will retire in fall 2019 after seven years leading the institution. Rorschach will step down following the opening of the museum’s newly renovated and expanded Seattle Asian Art Museum facility. The museum’s Board of Trustees will initiate an international search to find Rorschach’s replacement.

Winnie Stratton, President of SAM’s Board of Trustees, noted, “Kim’s retirement culminates an esteemed 25-year career leading museums. SAM and Seattle are stronger today thanks to her seven years of leadership. Over the years, it has been an honor to work with Kim and see how each of our three locations have matured to a new level and thrived with her guidance. She facilitated important art scholarship and brought to Seattle groundbreaking exhibitions. She worked to bring in more diverse and younger audiences, and increased attendance and community engagement.”

Added Stewart Landefeld, Chairman of SAM’s Board of Trustees, “SAM has flourished under Kim’s leadership. Her myriad of duties aside, she has been the number one champion for the museum. Her contribution to fundraising has been transformative, including raising nearly $125M towards the museum’s current $150M campaign to boost SAM’s endowment, renovate the Seattle Asian Art Museum, and expand programming across all three sites. Collegial, disciplined, and community-focused, Kim has been a great mentor and colleague. Her passion, drive, and desire to foster new connections between art, culture, and the community, will be greatly missed.”

Rorschach joined SAM in November 2012. She immediately set her sights on creating a schedule of exhibitions and programs for the museum’s three locations that was compelling and timely and that would resonate with a rapidly growing and diversifying Seattle community.

Working with SAM’s curators, Rorschach has been able to secure and produce an exhibition lineup that has bolstered the museum’s mission to “connect art to life” and increased attendance and membership to new levels. Through the years, Rorschach has overseen a roster of special exhibitions such as Disguise: Masks & Global African Art (2015); Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art (2015); Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic (2016); Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors (2017); Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect (2017); and Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas (2018). In cooperation with The Phillips Collection and the Museum of Modern Art, Rorschach helped bring to Seattle in 2017 Jacob Lawrence’s epic The Migration Series—the first time all sixty panels had been shown together on the West Coast for two decades. At the Seattle Asian Art Museum, known for its historic Chinese, Japanese, and Korean collections, Rorschach and the museum’s curators developed a lively and popular program of contemporary Asian exhibitions including Live On: Mr’s Japanese Neo-Pop (2014), Chiho Aoshima: Rebirth of the World (2015), and Tabaimo: Utsutsushi Utsushi (2016). The Olympic Sculpture Park continued to develop and thrive with the introduction of new year-round programs including the popular SAM Lights in December, as well as art installations in the PACCAR Pavilion by Sam Vernon (2015), Victoria Haven (2016), and the current installation by Spencer Finch.

During Rorschach’s tenure, SAM’s global collection has been enhanced by significant acquisitions. Louis-Phillipe Crépin’s Shipwreck Off the Coast of Alaska (1806); Raphaelle Peale’s Still Life with Strawberries and Ostrich Egg Cup (1814); Ai Wei Wei’s Colored Vases (2010); Jaume Plensa’s Echo (2011)—a gift of the late Barney Ebsworth; and Kehinde Wiley’s Anthony of Padua (2013) are among the many new works that have added breadth and depth to the collection and addressed critical gaps.

Guided by a shared vision for strengthening SAM’s collection for all, Rorschach has worked hand-in-hand with numerous generous donors to bring to the museum several substantial and transformative private collections, including the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, the most extensive collection of modern and contemporary art in the Northwest, featuring works by Johns, Frankenthaler, Rothko, Ruscha, Irwin, and more; as well as the Sam and Gladys Rubinstein Collection, focused on early European modernism, including works by Jawlensky, Delaunay, and Kupka.

Under Rorschach’s leadership, SAM’s growth has not been limited to its collection. She joined the museum as the nation and Seattle were beginning to rebound from a major economic downturn. She took steps to address the museum’s long-term operating challenges, improving its operating performance year over year. She has been instrumental in the launch of a major $150M fundraising campaign to secure the museum’s financial future; greatly increase its operating endowment by $60M; fund the $54M renovation and expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum, located in SAM’s historic first home; and fund numerous new programs, including a new Asian Paintings Conservation Center. She also worked with the museum’s staff and Board of Trustees to create a multi-year Strategic Plan, confirming the museum’s mission and vision, articulating its values, asserting its leadership position, and defining key strategic directions moving forward. This Strategic Plan continues as a template for SAM’s growth and was recently updated to include new priorities, including a focus on equity and inclusion.

Equity and inclusion have been top priorities for Rorschach during her time at SAM. As part of a commitment to building racial equity, addressing institutional racism, and bringing forth real change, she led the museum’s participation in the City of Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative; established racial equity training for the museum staff, volunteers, docent corps, and Board of Trustees; and oversaw the formation of a museum Equity Team. Under her leadership, the museum also created special exhibition advisory committees to ensure that diverse community voices are part of the exhibition, programming, and marketing planning processes.

Engaging young people and building new audiences has also been a top priority for Rorschach. With her encouragement, SAM began hosting free

Community Celebrations, inviting thousands of people to see the special exhibitions on opening day. At the Olympic Sculpture Park, the museum launched the innovative Tiny Trees preschool program partnership and new winter programming for all audiences. And SAM has continued to grow its important partnership with the City of Seattle around the Creative Advantage arts education initiative. Overall, the museum has seen dramatic growth in its young adult audiences, echoing the rapid growth of the Seattle area.

Among Rorschach’s proudest accomplishments is the renovation and expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum, currently underway. The project not only preserves and restores the historic Art Deco building that houses the museum, but it also adds much needed gallery and education space. The project creates an opportunity to rethink the way the Asian Art Museum collections are presented and how new tools, such as interactive technology, can help visitors engage with the collection. A 12,000-square-foot expansion will allow for an expanded programming schedule for students and adults, supported by dedicated education space and more rotating exhibitions featuring cultures outside of SAM’s core Chinese, Japanese, and Korean collections. The anticipated reopening of the museum is late 2019.

“It has been a tremendous honor to lead the Seattle Art Museum during this exciting period of challenge and growth,” said Rorschach. “I am so proud of all that we have accomplished, and of our incredible SAM staff, whose dedication has inspired me every step of the way. I am also enormously grateful to SAM’s Board of Trustees and generous supporters, whose leadership has underpinned our many successes. With the downtown expansion and Olympic Sculpture Park, and now the rebirth of the Seattle Asian Art Museum, SAM’s three sites are poised to serve the community for many years to come.”

Before coming to the Seattle Art Museum, Rorschach was the founding director of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, which she established as the most dynamic museum presenting contemporary art in the region, with a significant national profile. She previously served as the director of the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art, and held curatorial positions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. Rorschach holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, and was a Fulbright Scholar. She is a former President of the Association of Art Museum Directors and serves on the board of the Center for Curatorial Leadership, New York, founded by Agnes Gund.

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