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 museums newly renovated and expanded Seattle Asian Art Museum facility. The museums Board of Trustees will initiate an international search to find Rorschachs replacement.
Winnie Stratton, President of SAMs Board of Trustees, noted, Kims 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 SAMs Board of Trustees, SAM has flourished under Kims 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 museums current $150M campaign to boost SAMs 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 museums three locations that was compelling and timely and that would resonate with a rapidly growing and diversifying Seattle community.
Working with SAMs curators, Rorschach has been able to secure and produce an exhibition lineup that has bolstered the museums 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 Lawrences epic The Migration Seriesthe 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 museums curators developed a lively and popular program of contemporary Asian exhibitions including Live On: Mrs 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 Rorschachs tenure, SAMs global collection has been enhanced by significant acquisitions. Louis-Phillipe Crépins Shipwreck Off the Coast of Alaska (1806); Raphaelle Peales Still Life with Strawberries and Ostrich Egg Cup (1814); Ai Wei Weis Colored Vases (2010); Jaume Plensas Echo (2011)a gift of the late Barney Ebsworth; and Kehinde Wileys 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 SAMs 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 Rorschachs leadership, SAMs 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 museums 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 museums financial future; greatly increase its operating endowment by $60M; fund the $54M renovation and expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum, located in SAMs historic first home; and fund numerous new programs, including a new Asian Paintings Conservation Center. She also worked with the museums staff and Board of Trustees to create a multi-year Strategic Plan, confirming the museums 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 SAMs 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 museums participation in the City of Seattles 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 Rorschachs 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 SAMs 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 SAMs 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, SAMs 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 Chicagos 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.