Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Lauren Lessing, Mirken Director of Academic and Public Programs at the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville, Maine, has been named director of the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art. She will begin July 31.

Lauren Lessing

Lessing will be the eighth director of the museum, which opened in 1969. She will oversee the management and care of the Stanley museum’s collections as well as its curatorial, educational, and administrative activities. In addition, she will play a leading role in fundraising and planning for the construction of a $50 million, 63,000-square-foot museum to host exhibitions from the museum’s collection and provide space for study, research, and storage of artwork. The new facility will be built adjacent to the UI Main Library and next to Gibson Square Park.

Lessing succeeds Steve McGuire, who has served as acting director since April. McGuire will return to his role as professor and director of the UI School of Art and Art History. McGuire took over for Jim Leach, UI chair in public affairs and joint visiting professor in the College of Law and the Department of Political Science in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Leach had served as interim director since Jan. 1, 2017, when former director Sean O’Harrow left to run the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Lessing is an art historian and educator with more than 25 years of experience working in museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. She started at the Colby College Museum of Art as Mirken Curator of Education in June 2007, becoming Mirken Director of Academic and Public Programs in January 2015. During her time there, she built the museum’s academic outreach, volunteer docent, and school-visit programs from the ground up; directed community outreach and programming; linked museum collections and exhibitions to curriculum at the college; and co-created public programs to serve audiences from the college to surrounding Maine communities and beyond.

Lessing also co-wrote and helped implement a five-year strategic plan that led to the construction of a new wing with dedicated spaces for teaching and art making and a new focus on academic engagement across the liberal arts curriculum.

“Lauren brings a wealth of experience and is widely respected in the art world,” says Sue Curry, UI interim executive vice president and provost, who announced the appointment. “She has tremendous vision and believes in the integral role that the Stanley Museum of Art plays in the academic mission of the University of Iowa.”

Lessing grew up in southern Indiana, and her parents—a painter and a sculptor—were both students of Ulfert Wilke, the founding director of the Stanley Museum of Art.

“I look forward to returning to the Midwest and working with the museum staff, faculty, students, alumni, and people of Iowa to further distinguish the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art as one of the finest academic art museums in the country,” Lessing says. “University art museums have the capacity to be nimble and experimental, and the Stanley is well positioned to lead the field with new and innovative practices to educate, enrich, and empower a diverse audience.”

Lessing was one of three finalists invited to the UI campus in April to interview for the director position. The search was led by McGuire and University Librarian John Culshaw.

Lessing holds a Bachelor of Arts in fine art from Earlham College, as well as a Master of Library Science degree, an MA in history of art, and a PhD in history of art from Indiana University in Bloomington. She serves on the Arts Education Committee for the Maine Art Commission and the curatorial advisory panel of the Gund Gallery at Kenyon College, and is executive editor of Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art. She is also a city council member in Waterville, Maine.