November 3,2016 | The Rockwell Museum in Corning New York has named Brian Lee Whisenhunt its new executive director. Whisenhunt will begin in early January 2017 as director of The Rockwell, succeeding Kristin A. Swain who announced her retirement earlier this year after serving in this role for some 14 years.
“After a national search, we are so pleased that Brian Lee Whisenhunt has accepted the appointment of Executive Director to The Rockwell Museum. Brian’s museum experience and eagerness around arts in education, community collaboration and high-quality American art experiences make him a great fit for The Rockwell and our region. I’m certain he’ll be overwhelmingly welcomed by our vibrant arts community and the people that make it happen,” said Deb Naylor, President of the Board of Trustees, The Rockwell Museum.
With nearly 20 years of museum experience, Brian will be arriving as the 40-year-old Rockwell Museum has recently been re-invigorated. In the last three years, The Rockwell has broadened its mission statement to encompass art about the American experience, transformed its permanent art galleries from top-to-bottom, opened a new Family Exploration Studio for young visitors, revitalized the Museum Store, and launched new programs like Rockwell Roadhouse, Gingerbread Invitational, and Urban Arts Crawl. Most notably, The Rockwell has become a Smithsonian Affiliate.
“The Rockwell is an amazing museum and an asset to Corning–their exhibitions, programming and deep community connections are exemplar to the field for how cultural organizations can become a true resource for their city,” says Whisenhunt. “I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to work with The Rockwell team and continue to build upon all of their tremendous success. I’m also excited to get to know my community and all of the great people who are a part of it.”
Brian comes to The Rockwell with professional experience in museum education, program development, nonprofit administration and art education. Since July 2011, Whisenhunt has served as the executive director of the Museum of the Southwest, a five-acre multidisciplinary campus that includes the Turner Memorial Art Museum, Durham Children’s Museum, Blakemore Planetarium, a public sculpture collection, and the Holloway House residence and guest house. He received his M.A. in Art History from the University of Oklahoma and began his professional museum career at the Wichita Art Museum in Kansas before moving on to work with the Blanton Museum of Art at UT Austin and then as executive director of the Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana in 2008. While there, he was responsible for all aspects of the organization including the oversight of corporate and individual fundraising, strategic growth of the museum collection, and the creation of a new membership level for young professionals. He also oversaw the museum’s successful reaccreditation by the American Alliance of Museums and organized the celebration of its 70th anniversary.
In 2014, he was accepted into the prestigious Getty Leadership Institute, an international executive leadership program for museum professionals, and also received the Beacon Award for Excellence in Organizational Leadership from the Nonprofit Management Center. Brian was the recipient of the KAEA Outstanding Art Educator Award in 2003, an Award of Merit from the MPMA Education Committee for innovation in programming for Art Start (a program for preschoolers) in 2006, an Award for Publication Design for Special Events from MPMA in 2013 and an Award from Excellence in Programming with a group of Wichita museum for Senior Wednesday in 2008. He has presented on program and audience development at numerous conferences and meetings.
As the Executive Director of the Museum of the Southwest in Midland, Texas, Brian was responsible for planning a $5.4M capital campaign to renovate and restore the Turner Memorial Art Museum which includes the historic Turner Mansion dating from the 1930s. In addition to an aesthetic makeover of the entire building, this project included updates to the collection storage area; reorientation of the galleries in the Wagner Wing for improved flow and visitor experience; new lighting throughout all spaces; new flooring and restoration of historic flooring in the Mansion; and several updates to reveal the historic details of the home. Under Brian’s leadership, the museum successfully increased 2015 campus entries to over 100K visitors, the first time in over a decade. The reopening of the space took place in May 2016 and was part of the year-long celebration of the museum’s Golden Anniversary.
Brian’s career is rooted in education, having served as an adjunct professor of art at Indiana State University, Director of Education at the Wichita Art Museum, and Manager of Public Programs at Blanton Museum of Art at University of Texas. His leadership style is based in community interaction – a highly collaborative model. Professional affiliations include varied volunteer and board roles with the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), Mountain-Plains Museums Association, and the National Art Education Association (NAEA). Brian’s wide range of experience and interest include American art, architecture, public sculpture, fundraising, educational programming, and museum visitor engagement.