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The Art of the Stamp:
A Victoria,BC Love Story

Kimerly Rorschach: Seattle Art Museum Director

Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker: Frye Art Museum Director

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Art for Drugs: The connections between art theft and drug addiction.

Inherent Vice: Why some artworks contain the seed of their own demise.

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Behind the Scenes


Interview: Seattle Art Museum Director Kimerly Rorschach

Kimerley Rorschach, director, Seattle Art Museum  Photo: Andrew Waits

Kimerley Rorschach, director, Seattle Art Museum Photo: Andrew Waits

Arriving in Seattle in 2012 with about two decades of museum experience, first at the University of Chicago and then at Duke, Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO of Seattle Art Museum Kimerly Rorschach advises young people who want to become art museum directors that it’s “better to be a curator first. Learn all about the art. To be a director, you’ve got to know art. I didn’t know at first what all this entailed. That was dropped in my lap when the University of Chicago called about running the [David and Alfred] Smart Museum. I gave it a try!” Growing up in Houston, Texas (another city, like Seattle, with three interrelated museum sites) and studying art history at Brandeis and Yale (her PhD was in 18th-century English painting) gave her a good preparation.

Four years into her job, Dr. Rorschach has increased attendance, amplified the museum endowment considerably, and gathered a staff of curators at three separate sites – downtown SAM, Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM) and Olympic Sculpture Park – into a cultural conglomeration that has shifted priorities over the past decade and now appears more attuned than ever in its programming to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest’s ethnic and racial diversity.

This is as it should be for a museum whose top collection strengths are Asian, African and Native American art. A topsy-turvy kind of museum due to the respective tastes of three early patrons – Richard E. Fuller, Katherine White and John H. Hauberg – ethnic and tribal art are privileged over European Old Masters in programming and acquisitions.

As to the distinctions between U.S. and Canadian art museum directors, Rorschach quickly mentioned that fundraising campaigns in the U.S. are “at least fifty percent of the job. You’ve got to engage people, be a people person, and always bear in mind your audience.”

While SAAM attendance varies between 30,000 and 60,000 per year, an average of 700,000 annual visitors enter the downtown building and Olympic Sculpture Park to see exhibitions that, in the coming two years, will feature Yves Saint Laurent; European landscape masterpieces from Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen’s family collection; Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms and an Andrew Wyeth retrospective. Discussing blockbuster art museum shows, now so central to North American art museums’ income, Rorschach noted, “Some are so big that we can’t do them…. Our audiences reflect a huge variety of interests. We want to be global, so Asian and African art in particular are crucial. And contemporary art is always an important part of that mix.”

Thinking ahead, Rorschach concluded that, “My vision is that this become the right museum for Seattle into the twenty-first century. It’s not what it used to be but, while we respect and build on our illustrious history, we’ve got to be responsive as well as responsible. That way, we can all grow and fulfill our great desires about what to present. We’re on the Pacific Rim so we want everyone to benefit from what we do.”


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