Peter Schweitzer, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Desert Caballeros Western Museum
announced this week that the board, with regret, had accepted the resignation of W. James Burns as Executive Director. In Schweitzers announcement he praised the successes achieved at the Museum during Burns tenure: the museum completed a successful capital campaign, built the Learning Center, built the Quayle gallery, refurbished all other galleries, updated all behind-the-scenes functions and hosted a string of more and more successful Cowgirl Up events.
Honored by the Museum Association of Arizona with the Institutional Excellence Award in May 2014 for its exemplary programs, exhibitions, collections and scholarly research, the Museum has brought national attention to Wickenburg. During the past few years the Museum has grown from a small town historical society to a nationally recognized center for western art, history, and culture.
During Burns tenure the Museum has thrived, serving as a model for community engagement; it received perfect scores from Arizona Commission on the Arts community engagement grant peer reviewers for the past two years. Attracting over 75,000 visitors a year, the Museum has become a major force in the local economy providing economic development for local businesses selling good, services, and meals to Museum visitors.
The Museums signature event, Cowgirl Up! Art from the Other Half of the West, set several new records during Burns tenure, and continues to provide an opportunity to publicly recognize the significant contributions of women Western artists to the genre of Western American art. In a realm dominated by men, Cowgirl Up! provides these talented artists with an opportunity to be recognized; the show is helping to right a wrong and to give women Western artists a place alongside their male counterparts.
The Museums commitment to fostering women Western artists was reaffirmed and strengthened during Burns tenure, creating a niche that sets Desert Caballeros Western Museum apart from other Western museums. The Museum continued that tradition with the addition of the Cowgirls with a Camera exhibition, heading into its fourth year. Cowgirls with a Camera builds upon the success achieved with Cowgirl Up!, which has developed a reputation larger than the Museum itself. Cowgirl Up! features some of the finest sculptures, paintings and works on paper by women Western artists, but it does not include photography. Embracing the belief that photography is every bit as much a fine art, staff proposed the idea of creating an exhibition showcasing the talents of the finest women photographers from around the nation working in the Western genre. Response from various constituencies was so favorable that the Museum decided to continue the exhibition on an annual basis.
The Museum is committed to continuing to build one of the finest womens Western art collections in the nation by adding artworks from Cowgirl Up! and Cowgirls with a Camera to its permanent collection. The variety of subject matter and styles represented in the work of these artists expands our horizons and redefines the definition of Western art, adding depth and dimension to the genre.
Burns came to the Museum as Executive Director in June 2010 from the City of Tempe. A graduate of the Museum Management Institute at the Getty, Burns has worked in history, anthropology, and art museums since 1990 at institutions in Arizona, Georgia, Virginia, and Louisiana, including the Museum of Northern Arizona, the Louisiana State Museum, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, and the Atlanta History Center. From 2000-2007 he served as the founding curator and Director of Curatorial Services for the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, Georgia.
Burns has accepted a new post as Executive Director of the University of Arizona Museum of Art and Visual Art Archive, effective September 1, 2014. The University of Arizona museums system, including the University of Arizona Museum of Art, the Center for Creative Photography, and the Arizona State Museum, was recently named one of the top thirty university museum systems in the world.
An Interim Director has been appointed to succeed Burns until a nationwide search can be conducted for a new Executive Director. Sandra Harris will be joining the Museum as of September 1, 2014. Harris brings a very impressive resume, starting at a Scottsdale art gallery in 1988, and over time becoming director of two museums and deputy director of the Hearst Museum of Anthropology, UC Berkeley and most recently, deputy director of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.
Burns remains committed to supporting and fostering the success of the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, one of the most precious assets of Wickenburg. He is thrilled that the Museum has claimed its place as a showcase for the Old West, the New West, and the Next West.