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Sustaining the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Future

A conversation with Director Marcelle Polednik

Nov. 18, 2016
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When Marcelle Polednik became director of the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) this summer, she inherited an institution with an internationally known pavilion designed by Santiago Calatrava, and an addition completed under her predecessor, Daniel Keegan, that dramatically expanded exhibition space.

Polednik comes to the job with a solid résumé. Most recently, she was director and chief curator of Jacksonville’s Museum of Contemporary Art; previously she taught at Monterey Peninsula College and was assistant curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on Sigmar Polke, the eclectic late-20th-century German painter-photographer.

“These days they’re flip sides of the same coin,” Polednik says of a museum director’s role as scholar and businessperson. “If you are passionate about something, you’ll find a way to nurture the thing you love. A director must know how to make exhibitions financially viable—to fulfill the curatorial aspirations of the museum while insuring the financial success of the museum over the long run.”

While many of the museum’s upcoming exhibitions were planned long before she came to Milwaukee, Polednik promises to make her mark on programming “sooner than you may think—there may be inklings next spring and summer.”

Milwaukee is in the increasingly familiar position of possessing an art museum better known for its architecture than its permanent collection. “I’m learning about Milwaukee’s history, its social DNA and the opportunities the museum has to express that lineage,” Polednik says. The museum’s deep collection of German art is only one facet in her thinking as she begins to formulate an exhibition strategy for the coming years. “I would like to connect the collection with the social history of Milwaukee—to show the story of the city through the story of the museum.”

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