New Director Named for Ackland Art Museum

A three-time art museum director with extensive experience in the field has been appointed director of UNC’s Ackland Art Museum.

Emily Kass, who will begin work Oct. 16, has led the Tampa Museum of Art (1996-2005) and the Fort Wayne Museum of Art in Indiana (1985-96), both as executive director. She also was assistant director and acting director of the University of New Mexico Art Museum in Albuquerque (1981-84).

In Tampa, Kass managed a $3.5 million annual budget, a 6,900-piece permanent collection, educational and public programs and community relations. She established advisory committees that emphasized outreach to black and Latino audiences, developed collaborations with community organizations, added 900 works to the permanent collection, established a young professionals group to help bring in new audiences and increased paid memberships by 1,000 households.

Kass also developed public programming targeting all age groups, including monthly “Art After Dark” events, weekday art history and lifestyle series and evening and weekend lecture, film and performance series.

“Emily Kass’ expertise and experience fit perfectly with the mission of an art museum at a public university, where education and outreach are as important as the display of fine art,” said UNC Provost Bernadette Gray-Little. “Emily’s track record demonstrates her ability to continue these emphases at the Ackland.”

The quality and depth of the Ackland’s permanent collection of more than 15,000 objects helped attract Kass to UNC, as did its goals of building its collections of African-American, Latino and contemporary art while strengthening and expanding access to the existing collection.

“I look forward to working with a collection that is clearly one of the most outstanding in the Southeast,” she said.

For the past year, Kass has consulted for the Sarasota Museum of Art, a division of the Ringling School of Art and Design. The four-year art college in Sarasota, Fla., plans a new museum of contemporary art. Kass has advised the school on space needs, architectural considerations, finances, collection and exhibition development, and fundraising.

Previously, at the helm of the Tampa museum for nine years, Kass led the planning for a new museum facility and guided a fundraising campaign that raised $62 million – $32 million in private gifts and pledges and $29.8 million in city funding – for the project.

Kass’ experience with the two projects fit with the Ackland’s plans for an addition that will more than double its current 36,000-square-foot capacity. The wing will extend behind the existing building and add an entrance to the museum off Porthole Alley, a heavily traveled walkway between the town and campus. Carolina is in the early stages of fundraising for the addition.

“I look forward to making the expansion a reality, working with the architects on finalizing the design and, most importantly, securing the funds required for the project,” she said. “This is a major effort, and one that will have a lasting impact on the arts at Carolina. I am especially interested in the ability to create expanded exhibitions and programming that will only be possible with the addition.”

Kass will succeed Gerald D. Bolas, who stepped down from the post in June saying that after 30 years directing three museums, he was ready to pursue a consulting business. “I love the Ackland,” Bolas told The News & Observer. “It’s been a privilege to be the director at this great University.”

Kass earned a bachelor’s degree at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and a master’s at the University of Minnesota, both in art history. In 2001, she studied museum planning and design at New York University and the Harvard University Design School.

She received a certificate in museum management at the Getty Leadership Institute in California and has attended the American Bar Association’s American Law Institute seminars on legal issues pertaining to museums. Kass also has received a National Endowment for the Arts Museum Professional Fellowship.

She expressed interest in involving UNC students in museum activities: “I’m looking forward to the energy and thinking that come from very talented students. You only get that from working in a university environment.

“Students are the future audiences, board members and benefactors of museums,” she said. “It’s important to involve them now in meaningful ways.”

Related coverage is available online:

  • Ackland Closing For Six Weeks, to Reopen With a New Look
    News report from July 2005
  • Culture Block : Another corner of the campus is sized up for a new look and a new life as the University sets out to lift up the arts – for the students and the community.
    From the November/December 2004 issue of the Carolina Alumni Review available online to Carolina Alumni members.
  • The Next Best Thing : The Ackland Art Museum is near the top of any list of the extracurriculars that students, and Chapel Hill visitors, ought to take in. What’s not as well known is the story of how the museum, and William Hayes Ackland himself, came to this town and not to Duke.
    From the September/October 2001 issue of the Carolina Alumni Review, available online to Carolina Alumni members.

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