Milwaukee Art Museum names new director

Polednik increased attendance by 70% at MOCA Jacksonville

Polednik

Dr. Marcelle Polednik has been named the new director of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Marcelle Polednik
Polednik (PRNewsFoto/The Milwaukee Art Museum)

Polednik, the current director and chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, was chosen by the museum’s board of trustees following a national search that involved dozens of potential leaders.

She is the first director to benefit from the $8 million director endowment fund donated by Donna and Donald Baumgartner this week. The Baumgartners, active MAM supporters, announced earlier this month they would sell their family company,Paper Machinery Corp., to its employees through an employee stock ownership plan.

Polednik succeeds Dan Keegan, who retired this week after eight years leading the iconic cultural institution on Milwaukee’s lakefront.

Keegan is credited with helping bring a variety of world-class exhibitions to the museum for display during his leadership tenure. He also helped bolster arts education and museum programming for families, particularly through Kohl’s Art Generation backed by Kohl’s Cares.

Among his top accomplishments, he worked to negotiate a public-private partnership with Milwaukee County through which the county is investing $10 million to repair museum buildings, which are owned by the county. That investment joins the museum’s $24 million capital campaign. Through the investments, the museum opened its reconfigured Collection Galleries in November. Keegan also led MAM in acquiring the O’Donnell Park property.

Under Polednik’s leadership, MOCA Jacksonville created a new artistic vision and mission. She guided a new focus on traveling exhibitions of self-curated projects, increasing the number and prominence of its exhibitions.

Polednik also founded a successful program called the Project Atrium series, through which MOCA Jacksonville highlighted site-specific commissions by emerging and mid-career artist, which helped the museum obtain a two-year grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

In addition, Polednik increased the museum’s educational offerings, grew attendance by more than 70 percent and increased general admission revenue by 147 percent. She also brought in 75 percent more annual donations, including the largest gift MOCA has ever received.

Before MOCA Jacksonville, Polednik was chief curator at Monterey Museum of Art and assistant curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She holds a doctorate in art history from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University and speaks seven languages. Polednik will begin in her new role at MAM in mid-August.

“Following a year of transformative and groundbreaking projects, the Milwaukee Art Museum is embarking on a period of tremendous growth and opportunity. Our board sought a candidate who recognized that momentum, and could build on it and take the institution to the next level,” said Don Layden, president of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s board of trustees. “Marcelle is forward-thinking, bright and innovative, and we’re thrilled she’s coming to Milwaukee.”

“I am honored to lead the Milwaukee Art Museum at the defining moment in the life of this exceptional institution,” Polednik said. “Building on the solid foundation established by my predecessors, I look forward to working with the Museum’s talented team, devoted board of trustees and the Milwaukee community at large to usher in an era of unprecedented artistic accomplishment, one that charts the path to deeper, meaningful audience engagement, financial sustainability and local, regional and national renown.”

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Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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