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Tacoma Art Museum announces Samantha Hightower as Director of Education
For the past seven years, Kelly has been Curator of Education at the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama.

TACOMA, WA.- Tacoma Art Museum announces Samantha Hightower Kelly as their new Director of Education. Kelly will spearhead the development of educational programs designed to engage the community and broaden and diversify the museum’s audiences. She has recently been recognized with national and regional awards, including “Southeastern Region Art Museum Educator of the Year” by the National Art Education Association (March 2014), and “Alabama Art Museum Educator of the Year” by the Alabama Education Association (October 2013). Other recent accolades include being named Employee of Recognition by Birmingham’s mayor and among the “Top 40 Under 40” young professionals by Birmingham Business Journal (both 2013).

“I’m thrilled to join Tacoma Art Museum as the Director of Education at this pivotal moment in the museum’s development,” Kelly shared. “I am honored to have the opportunity to shape a vision and strategic plan for educational programming that builds on the momentum of the expansion and supports Tacoma Art Museum’s mission of connecting people through art.” She added “My family is happy about relocating to the beautiful Pacific Northwest and eager to explore the outdoors, history and culture in and around Tacoma.”

Kelly brings 18 years of leadership and strategic planning experience specifically in art museum education programs. For the past seven years, Kelly has been Curator of Education at the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama. One of her many accomplishments there was creating the endearing “Bart the Art Bat” to brand their educational programming. She collaborated with universities and other institutions to develop new museum education programs, and conducted a market analysis of local fee-based cultural programs to restructure the business model for the museum’s summer camps. Kelly also succeeded in grant writing and cultivating funding sources to support museum programming.

Prior to the Birmingham Museum of Art, Kelly was Assistant Curator of Education for Adult Programs at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts for four years, where she participated in implementing the museum’s new 20,000 square foot Education Wing. As Senior Education Coordinator at Newcomb Art Gallery at Tulane University, she originated a comprehensive educational program to attract diverse audiences, with a focus on school and family involvement. In the role of School and Community Outreach Assistant at Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, she worked to develop and administer outreach programs that increased attendance among target audiences by 40 percent. 

“We are delighted to attract a museum professional of Samantha’s caliber to lead our education program. At the Birmingham Museum of Art she led the development of their nationally-acclaimed family galleries and launched innovative programs that generated substantial growth in family attendance,” said Stephanie A. Stebich, Director of Tacoma Art Museum. “We look forward to her expertise, ideas and energy as we launch the Haub Family Galleries and new educational spaces.”

As a cultural resource for the region, TAM’s educational programming extends opportunities to learn about and build relationships through art for all ages. Programs are created in collaboration with diverse community groups, with relevance and accessibility in mind. For example, the museum’s popular annual Dia De Los Muertos and the well-appreciated Northwest Native Community Festival involve partnering with many cultural and social organizations. TAM’s expansion will include an inventive free public interactive art studio for youth and adults with hands-on activities, interactive experiences, and engaging information that bridges the Haub Family Collection of Western American Art and Northwest art collections.

"I'm excited to collaborate with the education and curatorial teams at TAM to grow deeper connections with TAM’s audiences. We’ll provide audiences of all ages, abilities, and interests with expanded opportunities to actively participate in the galleries,” Kelly said, speaking of her plans. “We’ll advance new themes and trends in museum education, incorporating technology, encouraging conversation and shared dialogue, and introducing a tiered approach to interpretation for different audiences. By giving visitors more hands-on learning, free-choice exploration, and channels to contribute their voices and ideas, we can engage them on a personal level.”

Kelly is a graduate of Emory University with a BA in Art History and minor in Anthropology and earned an MA in Art History from Tulane University. She begins her work at Tacoma Art Museum on August 19th.

For press images, interviews, or more information, contact Julianna Verboort at
253.272.4258 x3011 or at


About Tacoma Art Museum
Tacoma Art Museum serves the diverse communities of the Northwest through its collections, exhibitions, and learning programs emphasizing art and artists of the Northwest. Established in 1935 by a group of volunteers, the museum has built a permanent collection of more than 4,450 primarily Northwestern works. With the recent gift of the Haub Family Collection of Western American Art, TAM is honored to offer of one of the top 12 collections of Western American art in the country.

HOURS – Wednesdays–Sundays 10 am–5 pm, Third Thursdays 10 am–8 pm
ADMISSION – Adult $10, Student/Military/Senior (65+) $8, Family $25 (2 adults and up to 4 children under 18). Children 5 and under free. Third Thursdays free from 5-8 pm. Members always free.
CONTACT – 253.272.4258,,

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