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Tucson Museum of Art Seeks Wider Community Embrace Under New CEO

by Kai Parmenter

The Tucson Museum of Art has long been an historic destination in Downtown. Founded in 1924 as the Tucson Fine Arts Association, the Museum has grown from a small organization in the El Presidio Historic District to one of the Old Pueblo’s premiere institutions for art and culture. Yet their mission has remained the same: to enrich the lives of the people it serves through exhibition, education and the broadening of public access to the arts.

In February of 2016, the TMA Board of Trustees announced the appointment of Jeremy Mikolajczak as Chief Executive Officer of the Museum, following the retirement of Dr. Robert Knight. Mikolajczak has already demonstrated a strong commitment to the Museum’s core mission in his first months as CEO, while planning new programs and initiatives that will grow community engagement and bring the Museum firmly into the 21st century.

Mikolajczak notes that some of these new initiatives focus on what made TMA so special to begin with, yet the Museum is doing more to engage the community than merely changing the art on the walls. Recognizing that socioeconomic factors prove a barrier for many, Mikolajczak and the Museum created their Second SundAZe @ TMA event. Inspired by previous “free day” events, Second SundAZe includes free admission for residents of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico on the second Sunday each month. The Museum will also host its Picture This! Art for Families program on Second SundAZe, in addition to musical performances, a photo booth and other community collaborations.

In a similar vein, TMA now offers free admission the first Thursday of each month from 5 to 8 p.m. as part of their aptly-titled First Thursdays program, which is geared more toward the millennial crowd. Mikolajczak hints that future entertainment for First Thursdays could possibly include live music, film screenings and more, so be sure to keep an eye on their calendar for details about each monthly event.

The Museum is also adding a new component to TMA Learn, their education program. Dubbed the Creative Space, the lower gallery will now include a center where visitors can engage directly with works on display, or create their own piece through painting and drawing. “This is a space where you can see works, you can touch them, feel them, you can engage with them in a totally different way,” says Mikolajczak, hoping to subvert the expectation of museums as hands-off spaces meant only for adults.

According to Mikolajczak, these new ideas and programs arose from the transitional phase the Museum experienced following the departure of Dr. Knight, who served as Director and CEO for the past ten years. “We’ve been really looking at the institution, sort of the Museum as a whole, as how do we increase access, how do we become more relevant in the greater conversation of the community?” says Mikolajczak, noting Tucson’s inherent diversity, and the challenges of engaging such a varied audience. “You want to make sure that, as one of the largest visual arts institutions in the area, that you maintain cultural relevancy in many ways.”

This transitional period is something all museums currently face, says Mikolajczak, pointing out the expanding role played by these institutions in recent years. “The traditional models of collect, preserve, educate…that time has passed because museums now are becoming cultural centers, they’re becoming centers of gathering,” whether for music, live performance, even events like farmers markets. The Museum has partnered with a diverse array of organizations, including local foundations, artists and radio stations to make these events a reality.

This isn’t to say TMA has lessened its focus on exhibition of visual arts. Mikolajczak is quick to point out that the Museum remains just as committed to bringing in traveling exhibitions from around the world, as well as displaying more items from their own permanent collection. Along those lines, TMA opened five new exhibits on August 27, including shows on Native American portraits, poetic minimalism, Latin American folk art and more.

“We haven’t gone to this magnitude in some years. Every single gallery is getting renovated and reinstalled,” says Mikolajczak, a hint of excitement in his voice. Between these new programs, and the many exhibitions that just premiered, the Museum is well on it way to becoming the cultural nexus envisioned by Mikolajczak. We can’t wait to see how things develop in the coming months.

To learn more about the Tucson Museum of Art and its new programs and exhibits, visit their website here. Tucson Museum of Art is located at 140 N. Main Avenue, and can be reached at (520) 624-2333.