New Director, New Era of Reflection

The NIC’s next executive director will arrive at a time when the museum begins reflecting on the organization’s purpose and goals.
The board of directors started its search for a new leader after former executive director Andy Couch left last month to pursue his doctoral degree.  

According to Nicolaysen Art Museum Board of Directors Chair Michael Bond, conversations with the community about the museum’s future will be the central theme in the new director’s work.

“We want to provide opportunities to patrons and community members to participate and let us know how they feel about the museum, are we providing the right experiences, or do we have the right mission? Do we have the right focus as a museum, or does it need to evolve?”

Seeking the next executive director

The museum board hopes by the end of November to choose a new director to start by January 1, 2023. The position is posted on the Colorado-Wyoming Association of Museums and the Mountain-Plains Museums Association websites and on the NIC’s website and social media.

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The board aims to select candidates to interview by Nov. 1. They plan a second round of interviews in-person with finalists by mid-November to choose the next executive director.

“Contemporary art museums are an exciting look into the world around us, and they inspire and house the expressions of our everyday life. We are so incredibly fortunate to have a place like the Nicolaysen Art Museum here in central Wyoming,” board member and past chair Marlene Ashbaugh said. “It’s not just a place of artifacts; it’s a place of ideas. We are excited to bring a new director into our fold that will bring our ideas to fruition.”

After nearly two years as executive director, Couch moved to Norman, Oklahoma, to continue his education at The University of Oklahoma. He’s now the executive director of the Norman Firehouse Art Center.   

His background in art history and museum studies bettered various sides of the museum, from exhibitions to education, Bond said. Couch showed board members and staff more about how an art museum can function.

He “was eminently qualified to be the executive director of the NIC and he definitely left the organization, the museum, in a better place, both financially and artistically, too, I think.”

Board members intend for the new director to help continue this momentum and ensure the museum offers what the community wants and needs from the organization.  

“Many arts institutions didn’t have the resources they needed to survive the economic disruptions of a global pandemic, but the NIC’s community really came together as a driving force behind an initiative to ensure survival in the short term while positioning the museum and Discovery Center to thrive in the long term,” board member Andrew Schneider said. “The organization that has emerged from this tragic and devastating epoch stands on a stronger financial footing with a renewed sense of purpose and vision to better serve the artistic and cultural needs of our local, regional, and visitor communities. It is thrilling to be able to bring a new leader into this environment as we continue developing a more inclusive culture of innovation in pursuit of our sustainability goals.”

Community feedback for the NIC’s future 

The time is ripe to reflect on the museum’s role, because much has changed since its beginning 55 years ago, Bond said. The NIC’s vast expansion from a former bus station building into its 25,000-square-foot downtown home was over three decades ago.

“And so there was obviously substantial interest in funding that and building that and supporting that. Over time, as the patron population has changed, and some of those original donors and supporters of the museum when it first became a contemporary art museum, and all that’s changed,” Bond said. “Now I think we’re at a critical place to really think about: What is the future of the NIC? What does the future of the Nicolaysen Museum hold?”

Once the new director is on board, the process can begin to gather feedback from stakeholders and patrons about the direction of the NIC. Prominent community members have expressed interest in working with the museum and incoming director to examine whether the NIC has the right focus on contemporary art or if there are other needs to fulfill, he said.

Does the NIC remain a contemporary art museum? Or will the focus shift to emphasize community artists more and broaden educational programs? Bond said these are the questions and conversations to have now with the community.  

“The Nicolaysen is at a critical juncture in our evolution as a contemporary art museum,” Bond said. “Many in the arts community find it amazing and unusual that a city the size of Casper actually has a contemporary art museum. Over the years, many executive directors and boards of directors at the museum have struggled to acquire and maintain a steady stream of financial support to keep the doors open. Many have wondered, ‘Is this realistic and even possible to sustain?’ The role of the community and particularly museum members, staff, leadership and board members is to first, ensure that the museum first of all has the appropriate mission that fills a community need and desire. Secondly, we must examine the extent to which we are successfully fulfilling that mission. Is this what members and the community want from the museum? These will be the challenges that a new executive director will continue to face.”

Please feel free to leave your feedback about programs and experiences at the Nicolaysen Art Museum in the comments below