The John Michael Kohler Arts Center

JMKAC main pic.jpg

JOHN MICHAEL KOHLER ARTS CENTER

SENIOR CURATOR

 SHEBOYGAN, WI

APPLICATION DEADLINE: JULY 22, 2019


OVERVIEW

The John Michael Kohler Arts Center (JMKAC) seeks a Senior Curator to lead the Curatorial Department at the premier institution dedicated to presenting, collecting, and preserving artist-built environments within a contemporary art context. Artist-built environments are created by people who transform their personal surroundings into multifaceted works of art that, in vernacular ways, embody and express the locale—the time, era, and place—in which each of them lived and worked. 

Founded in 1967, JMKAC has achieved national recognition for its innovative programs featuring artist-built environments and the work of self-taught artists. Since its inception, JMKAC has worked to bring recognition to these art forms of the 20th and 21st centuries. Exhibitions may include contemporary artists, emerging artists, self-taught artists, craft-based artists, or folk artists. As such, the works of art are not selected based on their standing in the art world but rather their individual qualities and their suitability in strengthening the curatorial thesis. The Arts Center has a long history of creating exhibitions that are primarily artist-driven and is especially interested in providing a platform for artists who have been overlooked or underrepresented. JMKAC is now poised to advance its mission through recent expansion efforts that include the Art Preserve, a new facility allowing the public and researchers to view and study its renowned artist-built environment collection. 

The Senior Curator reports to Associate Director Amy Horst, and shapes and implements the Arts Center’s curatorial objectives. The Senior Curator will foster collaboration among the curatorial, education, and programming sectors of the Arts Center to deliver insightful and impactful exhibition programs and guide the collecting priorities of JMKAC. S/he will champion fresh thinking and approaches to art exhibitions and collecting, and seize opportunities to be creative, experimental, and innovative. This is an opportunity to advance JMKAC’s reputation as a thought and program leader at a national level.  

Qualified candidates need not be experts in vernacular art but should be “culturalists,” well versed in contemporary art and demonstrating genuine interest in the intersection of fine art and artist-built-environments. The Senior Curator will be adventurous and a risk-taker, capable of developing new ideas from unconventional sources. The Senior Curator will be committed to exploring and championing the evolving relationship between the art and artists JMKAC champions and the greater art world.  

S/he must be a self-starter, putting team before self, encouraging cross-departmental thinking and visitor-centric approaches to presenting the art forms that have inspired JMKAC since its inception. Primary responsibilities include developing and managing collection growth, research and care; developing the exhibition program including driving and sharing original scholarship through publications and digital formats; oversight of the department, its administration and budget; and mentoring staff. The Senior Curator will be a primary producer of his/her own curatorial and scholarly work while also directing the entire exhibition programming at JMKAC.  

The Senior Curator will be responsible for 3 direct reports within a department of 12 as well as overseeing the curatorial work of 3 additional curatorial and program staff embedded in other departments. The annual department budget of $556,000 (FY 2019) is under the oversight of the Senior Curator with the support of the Curatorial Project Manager and in collaboration with the Director of Exhibitions and Collections Management.  In addition to having full responsibility for the curatorial program including exhibitions and special programs, the Senior Curator will be a key lead in the scholarly programming and responses at the Art Preserve, JMKAC’s new collection facility, and will play a pivotal role in bringing out-of-the-box thinking and leadership to the table. The position comes with a competitive salary and benefits.

 

ABOUT THE ARTS CENTER

Founded in 1967, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (JMKAC) generates a creative exchange between an international community of artists and a diverse public of up to 160,000 annually (plus broadcast audiences). JMKAC makes real the power of the arts to transform lives and strengthen communities. The Arts Center serves as a laboratory for the creation of new works, nurturer of interdisciplinary initiatives, originator of exhibitions and critical writings, steward of groundbreaking collections, presenter/producer of performing arts, educator, and community builder. In essence, the Arts Center is an explorer and catalyst that impacts artists and the public. Its inspiring mission, extensive award-winning programming, local/regional/national audiences, and strong involvement of underserved constituencies make it unique.

The Arts Center is acclaimed for its 45-year history of preserving vernacular art environments and has developed an unprecedented collection of 8,816 works that were once in jeopardy. The portion of JMKAC’s collection representing all types of contemporary art brings the total holdings to 22,730. Publications are developed as possible to document exhibition series or individual exhibitions and are exemplary in capturing the spirit of the work.

 Working with 17 Community Partners, JMKAC’s Connecting Communities program gives artists the opportunity to collaborate with underserved constituencies on the creation of large-scale compelling works. Projects have ranged from functional sculptures such as an art car/food truck and a sculptural recording studio, to large-scale community-based site-specific performances, to immersive public art and street art projects. A recent initiative, Art in Public Places, energized vacant and underused alleys and corridors along Sheboygan’s main street through original, immersive public art commissions.  

For over forty years, the groundbreaking Arts/Industry program has provided 2–6-month residencies for 12 artists annually, giving them 24/7 access to the Kohler Co.’s Pottery, Iron and Brass Foundry, and Enamel Shop to create whole bodies of new work. More than 400 artists have participated in the program to date, among them Chris Antemann (OR), Susan Beiner (AZ), Jack Earl (OH), Molly Hatch (MA), Robert Gober (NY), Stuart Keeler (Canada), Sergei Isupov (MA), Beth Lipman (WI), Arlene Shechet (NY), Michael Sherrill (NC), and Tom Spleth (NC).

Performing Arts programming includes week-long performance residencies focused on dance, theatre, and music with national and international artists such as, Contra-Tiempo Urban Latin Dance Theater (LA), Ephrat Asherie Dance (NY), Las Cafeteras (LA), and Ananya Dance Theatre (MN). Other programming includes commissioning new performance works, concerts, documentary films, and a summer-long, free, outdoor concert series. 

Education efforts deepen the impact of other programs through an acclaimed arts-based preschool; introductory videos for exhibitions; lectures; dialogue, and engagement-based tours; festivals; and programs for schools, universities, daycare centers, shelters, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and families. 

Because of its commitment to engaging all parts of its community, the Arts Center maintains free admission. It involves diverse artists in the breadth of its programming and works closely with its Community Partners. It has a 21-member Board of Directors, a full-time staff of 72, and an operating budget of $9.6 million. JMKAC currently comprises 131,000 sq. ft. including a 77,000-sq.-ft. main building with 17,000 sq. ft. of galleries, a theatre, and performance and education spaces; and a 51,000-sq.-ft. offsite storage facility. In 2020, JMKAC will open its new 58,000-sq.-ft. Art Preserve located on 38 acres on Sheboygan’s west side. The Art Preserve will be a three-level building designed by tres birds workshop of Denver, CO. In addition to providing storage for the collection, there will be curated display areas, an education area, library, study collection, and other spaces that will provide access to the collection for researchers, tour groups, and the broad public.  

COLLECTIONS AND EXHIBITIONS 

The Exhibitions/Collections Department of 12 staff annually curates 10–16 original exhibitions that are part of 1-2 broad themes exploring relevant issues in contemporary art. JMKAC prides itself on presenting exhibitions that are conceptually rigorous yet accessible to broad audiences. JMKAC eschews tired art categorizations or hierarchical distinctions that serve to alienate or marginalize. Rather, the exhibitions promote a diverse range of art and strive to provide a different perspective, fill a void in the dialogue, or add an expansive view of a topic.

In any given year, exhibitions can focus on a single-artist project to a larger thematic exploration. Over decades of groundbreaking exhibitions, JMKAC has introduced its growing national audience to extraordinary presentations of work at the intersections of art and culture. These projects support unique curatorial perspectives balanced with exceptional artists’ vision. For example, In 2017 JMKAC offered new perspectives on its collection of artist-built environments, a unique genre that is relatively unexplored by the larger art world.  

The Road Less Traveled exhibitions featured components from seventeen different art environments, with new interpretations from thought leaders such as Michele Grabner, Heather Hart, Matthew Higgs, Faythe Levine, Beth Lipman, Catherine Morris, Lisa Stone, Shannon R. Stratton, and Leslie Umberger. These collaborators worked with then Senior Curator Karen Patterson on the individual exhibitions within the series. In 2015, Dead Treez, an exhibition of the work of Jamaican-born artist Ebony G. Patterson, examined the visibility of underreported crime through the artist’s creation of large tapestries adorned with glitter, silk flowers, and rhinestones. Dead Treez was the first major solo museum exhibition for the artist and traveled to the Museum of Art and Design in NYC as well as Boston University Art Galleries and the University of Buffalo Art Galleries.  

The Arts Center collection features over 22,730 pieces with an emphasis on artist-built environments (of which JMKAC currently owns more than two dozen). Holdings also comprise home-based environments including monographic collections, Arts/Industry residency works, ongoing folk traditions, and the work of self-taught and contemporary artists. Media include painting, sculpture, photography, traditional crafts, new genres, and installation art. Through a unique arrangement, the Kohler Foundation in collaboration with JMKAC purchases works for the collection. Over the past three years over 2,300 works were added to the collection.

POSITION SUMMARY 

The Senior Curator reports to the Associate Director and will develop a creative, strategic vision for the Exhibitions/Collections Department. S/he provides effective management of the curatorial staff; engages in cultivation and fundraising activities; and generates and carries out original ideas for major exhibition series. 

Working with the Associate Director, curators, and the full Exhibitions/Collections team, the Senior Curator will shape a diverse, balanced exhibition schedule; conceive and curate original, innovative exhibitions; oversee the development of publications and touring exhibitions; maintain and strengthen JMKAC’s regional and national professional networks; collaborate with other departments to encourage interdisciplinary activity; oversee the curatorial team; and work in a collegial and collaborative manner with peers in education, development, marketing/public relations, and visitors services. Assisted by the Curatorial Project Manager, and working with the Associate Director and the Director of Exhibitions and Collections Management, the Senior Curator will help develop and manage the departmental budgets and exhibition schedule.  

ESSENTIAL DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES: 

  • Oversee all aspects of the design, development, installation, and execution of exhibitions with the Director of Exhibitions and Collections Management and related departments 

  • Supervise and develop curatorial staff, and oversee curatorial staff responsibilities 

  • Oversee research and writing of interpretive materials in exhibitions—wall statements, labels, handouts, etc.—and for catalogues and other publications 

  • Collaborate with performing arts, community arts, Arts/Industry, education, and other staff as necessary on the conceptual development of related programming 

  • Develop and manage the department budget  

  • Work with the marketing lead in the development of marketing plans and publicity materials for each exhibition series 

  • Participate in special-topic conferences as appropriate 

  • Assist development staff in seeking funding for Exhibitions/Collections Department 

  • Brief docents and gallery aides

 QUALIFICATIONS:

The Senior Curator must demonstrate leadership and team-building skills and have the ability to think strategically, while ensuring a high level of excellence. The successful candidate will possess the energy and enthusiasm to reach goals while creatively applying skills and techniques to solve problems. In addition, s/he will be self-starting, well-organized, and capable of working under pressure and meeting deadlines. Specific qualifications include: 

  • Master’s degree in Art History or related content area plus a minimum of 5 years curatorial experience 

  • Knowledge of and appreciation for the emphases of JMKAC’s specializations. A heightened aesthetic sensibility and understanding of visual culture 

  • Ability to ignite excitement in diverse audiences 

  • Exemplary curatorial record, including rigorous research and critical writing skills

  • Excellent managerial, organizational, and administrative skills, including demonstrated organizational planning, problem-solving, and collaboration skills 

  • Ability to cultivate collectors and potential donors 

  • Excellent written, verbal, and listening skills and a demonstrated ability to communicate clearly and professionally

  • Effective interpersonal skills, tactful and diplomatic, a team builder 

  • Maintains highest ethical standards related to organizational responsibilities and public accountability 

  • Willingness to travel in order to study and work with other museums’ staff, collectors, and gallerists 

  • Proficient computer skills in MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Collection database and software knowledge preferred

 

ABOUT SHEBOYGAN AND THE REGION

Sheboygan is located on the western shore of Lake Michigan, 50 miles north of Milwaukee and 65 miles south of Green Bay. Dubbed by the surf crowd as the Malibu of the Midwest, Sheboygan is a freshwater haven with many outdoor recreation opportunities including exceptional freshwater fishing. It is a friendly community of 50,000 and has a warm-summer and cold-winter climate typical of Wisconsin with year-round temperatures moderated by the waters of Lake Michigan.

Sheboygan enjoys 34 beautiful parks and 3 athletic complexes, totaling over 600 acres, offering residents and visitors a variety of outdoor recreation options. The region offers breathtaking views of the Lake and large sandy beaches. It also offers world-class freshwater sailing and premier charter fishing. It is a clean and diversified port town and commercial center, and has grown as a tourist and retirement destination attractive to residents of the larger cities to the south, including Chicago. The Stefanie H. Weill Center for the Performing Arts resides in the restored historic

1927 Universal Pictures Theater. It is home to several local performing arts groups and presents

its own series of live performances and movies.  Housing costs are reasonable, and the Sheboygan area public school system consistently meets Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction standards and significantly exceeds post-secondary readiness measurements.   

The fifth Levitt AMP Sheboygan Music Series, 11 summer concerts organized by JMKAC, will take place in the Sheboygan’s beautiful new City Green. Once a dormant space, City Green is now an expansive urban green space with a permanent stage and connects the Mead Public Library and the JMKAC. The 2019 concert series will build upon the transformative momentum of the past four years, bringing people of all ages and backgrounds together to further energize downtown Sheboygan’s newly created Arts, Culture and Food District. 

The city’s historic district of retail shops, small businesses and restaurants enhances Sheboygan’s charm. The City’s waterfront zone includes piers with a large resort and indoor waterpark complex. The area has two world-class golf courses owned by Kohler Co. Nearby are the Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run courses, located in the more upscale suburb of Kohler, 5 miles to the west. Sheboygan has a notable collection of arts assets for a city this size, some endowed by the Kohler family. Kohler Co., the international plumbing products manufacturer, is headquartered in Kohler. Kohler Co.’s philanthropic and community-centered support is evident in unusually strong arts and recreation amenities, including JMKAC. Sheboygan’s small-city lifestyle is bolstered by its large-corporation sophistication and connectivity to the metropolitan communities of Milwaukee and Chicago. There are 17 colleges within 50 miles of Sheboygan. Interstate 43 connects Green Bay to the north and the Milwaukee-Chicago metroplex to the south. Major-league football, baseball and basketball are all within easy access to Green Bay and Milwaukee. 

For more information on Sheboygan visit: https://midwestweekends.com/plan_a_trip/touring/lake_michigan/sheboygan_wisconsin.html

 

Nominations and Applications are Welcome

This is a very attractive opportunity to work in a senior position at a highly regarded AAM-accredited museum. Nominations and applications are welcome in strict confidence by contacting Dan Keegan or Marilyn Hoffman at searchandref@museum-search.com

How to Apply

All applications and nominations are kept confidential. Email cover letter and résumé (Word documents preferred), salary requirement, and names of 3 references and the nature of the relationships, with contact information by July 22, 2019, to: Dan Keegan and Marilyn Hoffman, Museum Search and Reference, searchandref@museum-search.com. EOE. References will not be contacted without prior permission of the applicant.