After 16 years, Walker director Kathy Halbreich has decided to step down. She informed staff at a Walker-wide meeting on Monday that her sabbatical last fall allowed her time to reflect on her future, and the fruit of that reflection was the awareness that she’s got “one more chapter left” in her professional career. She’s certainly accomplished much during her years here, a fact acknowledged by the success of the $100 million capital campaign and building expansion, a 2005 Award for Curatorial Excellence by The Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, and inclusion in ArtReview‘s Power 100 list of the art world’s most influential figures.
She’s not sure what’s next, but decided to ponder that blank canvas with a bit of distance from the institution she began leading in 1991. Only the fourth director in the Walker’s history, Halbreich emphasized she’s not departing for another position, just to get spiritual and intellectual space to welcome her next opportunity.
The Walker board is conducting an international search for her replacement, but Halbreich has agreed to stay with us until November 1. Over the next seven months, a management team made up of chief curator Philippe Vergne, chief operating officer Dave Steglich, and development director Christopher Stevens will work with her to ensure continuity during this transition, she announced.
In one of the first articles on her departure, Carol Vogel assessed: “That the Walker is viewed as an adventurous institution, regularly organizing challenging exhibitions and artists’ performances, is in large part owed to Ms. Halbreich’s vision.” Staff, seemingly in agreement, gave a teary Halbreich a standing ovation as the meeting concluded.
Shortly after that meeting, word passed quickly to the press and across the blogosphere. Here’s a rundown of the coverage:
On her next move (The New York Times):
Ms. Halbreich said she had no clear idea what she might tackle next. “ I can’t imagine any other institution capturing my talents and spirits so perfectly,” she said.
She added, “ Though this is scary, I do believe change will be really good for the Walker too.”
On her accomplishments (Pioneer Press):
During Halbreich’s tenure:
The Walker collection grew from about 6,100 works to almost 10,000 pieces.
Fundraising more than doubled, to $7.5 million a year.
The museum has been active in commissioning new performing-art works from artists across the community and around the world.
The Walker’s ambitious expansion doubled the size of the museum and added a 385-seat theater.
But Halbreich said she’s equally proud of what she described as an almost utopian work environment at the Walker, and the way the museum “began to understand how to serve a much wider audience, and became a spiritual home for a much more diverse audience.”
On hiring her replacement (Minnesota Public Radio):
Halbreich’s own advice for her replacement is to realize that the Walker staff is his or her greatest resource. She says her successor’s challenges will be to refuse to allow the status quo to exist, to protect the innovation and risk-taking of Walker programmers and “to make certain the support of artists is in place so that the cultural landscape of the future is as populated by great works as the past.”
On regrets and the future (Modern Art Notes):
Institutionally, no regrets. And I guess that’s one of the reasons why it feels like a good time to leave. I realize that there are also things I want to get back to which came from my recent sabbatical, and that has to do with being able to look at art exhibitions more than once. Having a different kind of stress in my life. I kind of thrive on it, but I’m willing to sort of say that a new challenge might have a different kind of stress attached to it.
But the thing that I really wanted to teach myself before but couldn’t is something I’ve learned from artists and Buddhists, and that is for a control freak the best thing she can learn is to cede some control and to live in the present. And I must say that much to my surprise, having made the leap into the void it’s also exhilarating. I realized that [I'm not] leaving Walker to go to some other place. I am leaving Walker so that Walker could continue to challenge the status quo. I am a person of commitment and I’ve got a chunk of time left to commit to something that I can have another professional love affair with.
Look for an interview with Halbreich here and in Walker magazine in the near future.
Photo: Ingrid Young for The New York Times