After more than 27 years of service, including 18 years as director, Gary Vikan announced Tuesday that he will step down from his leadership position at the Walters at the end of the next fiscal year, June 30, 2013. Board President, Douglas Hamilton, Jr. shared the announcement with the board of trustees at its regular meeting yesterday afternoon.
“Gary will be leaving the Walters a very different museum from the one that he entered,” said Hamilton. “Those of us who care deeply about this jewel and about our community owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.”
“We are especially fortunate that Gary stayed on to guide the Walters though the recession,” added Andrea Laporte, board chair. “He leaves the museum with a solid financial foundation and poised for future growth.”
Gary Vikan joined the staff of the Walters Art Museum in 1985 as director of curatorial affairs; he was appointed director in 1994. During his tenure, Vikan has led many transformative strategic initiatives at the museum, including:
- The elimination of the Walters’ general admission fee, resulting in an increase in attendance of more than 45% and a nearly three-fold increase in the diversity of the museum’s audiences;
- The change in name from “Gallery” to “Museum,” with an associated shift in the museum’s mission from object to audience focus;
- The oversight of two major building renovation and collection reinstallation projects, while helping to raise more than $65 million in associated capital and endowment funds;
- The endowment of 24 staff positions in the museum’s curatorial, conservation, and education divisions, nine through Mellon Foundation challenge grants;
- The development of an award-winning Education Division with greatly expanded school and family programs;
- The development of a ground-breaking exhibition program which regularly garners national critical press;
- The creation of the museum’s Touring Exhibition Program, which has served more than 3.2 million visitors world-wide;
- The initiation of an ambitious program of exhibition and collections publications, with nearly three dozen titles since 2000;
- The expansion of the museum’s website open-source art offerings, resulting in a more than five-fold increase in on-line visitors to more than 1.8 million annually;
- The expansion of the museum’s collections, through gifts and purchases, in the arts of Asia, the ancient Americas, Russia, and Ethiopia;
- The creation of a Center for the Arts of the Ancient Americas, with a $7.25 million endowment;
- The initiation of an innovative exhibition partnership with Johns Hopkins University’s Brain Science Institute in exploring the emerging field of neuroaesthetics.
Gary Vikan has also brought the story of the Walters Art Museum to people throughout the region by way of WYPR’s “Postcards from the Walters.”
His many awards and honors include an appointment by President Clinton to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee, and Knighthood in the Order of Arts and Letters (Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres) conferred by the French Minister of Culture and Communication.
In support of his strong commitment to Baltimore and the arts, Vikan has served on several boards, including Maryland Citizens for the Arts, the Maryland Humanities Council, the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, and the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors’ Association, now Visit Baltimore.
Throughout his time at the Walters he has taught courses in the Master of the Liberal Arts program of Johns Hopkins University, of which he is a board member.
Vikan, who celebrated his 65th birthday in November, reflected on his upcoming departure after nearly three decades: “I was drawn to the Walters by its magnificent collections but I stayed on because of the people: the staff, the Board and volunteers, and the public we all serve.” What’s next? “The word ‘retirement’ is not in my vocabulary,” said Vikan. “I look forward to the next chapter in my career, without yet knowing what it will be. In the short term, I have two books looking for publishers.”
A trustee search committee will be formed in the coming weeks to begin the process of recruiting Vikan’s successor.