Dr. Ned Rifkin, director of the Blanton Museum of Art, will resign from that position May 31 to commit full time to scholarly work and teaching at The University of Texas at Austin.
Rifkin, director of the museum since May 2009, also holds a position as a professor of art and art history in the Department of Art and Art History in the university’s College of Fine Arts. This spring semester, he has been teaching a special junior seminar on the year 1962 as part of the Plan II Honors Program.
“I began my professional career in 1977 as an assistant professor of art at The University of Texas at Arlington,” Rifkin said. “Currently, I have been leading a junior seminar in the Plan II Program here at UT Austin and I had forgotten how much I love to work closely with students on developing their learning skills.
“Much as I will miss working with the outstanding staff at The Blanton, I believe my eagerness to teach more and my desire to pursue meaningful research on a variety of topics will better suit me. I wish every possible success to The Blanton as it continues to offer quality programs to transform lives through art.”
Prior to his role at The Blanton, Rifkin was undersecretary for art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and directed the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Menil Collection and Foundation in Houston and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.
Executive Vice President and Provost Steven Leslie said the university appreciates the extensive knowledge and creativity that Rifkin has provided the Blanton Museum of Art. Leslie said Rifkin has challenged staff to explore new possibilities for interpretation and presentation of the museum’s collection, and has enhanced student involvement with the museum.
Leslie said he has appointed Simone Wicha, the Blanton Museum’s deputy director for external affairs and operations, as the new director, effective June 1.
“The university is fortunate, indeed, that Simone Wicha will become the director of the Blanton Museum,” Leslie said. “She is deeply skilled and knowledgeable in the visual arts and she will lead the Blanton Museum of Art to the highest levels of excellence.”
“I am confident that Simone will do an outstanding job as director of the Blanton Museum of Art,” said William Powers Jr., president of The University of Texas at Austin. “During her tenure at the museum, she has impressed the university’s administration and the Museum Council and she has our strongest support in her leadership of The Blanton, one of the foremost university art museums in the country.”
“The invitation to serve as the fifth director of the Blanton Museum of Art is a great honor,” Wicha said. “The Blanton’s notable collection, original programs and research, talented staff and
eminence – as a university museum and a cultural force in Austin – make my new role an exciting challenge. I look forward to building on the nearly 50-year legacy of excellence and innovation at the museum.”
Wicha has been The Blanton’s deputy director for external affairs and operations since last year, overseeing 37 full-time employees and efforts related to development, membership, visitor services, marketing and public relations, facility rentals and human resources, as well as the management of the museum’s cafe and shop. Her commitment to student outreach and to modernizing the museum’s technologies will remain top priorities in her new position, she said. She has also initiated an audience research and rebranding process for the museum scheduled to begin in the next year.
Wicha came to the museum in 2006 as director of development. She led the successful completion of a $83.5 million building campaign and the implementation of an annual giving program that increased fund raising to $2 million per year and increased membership to 10,000 households in the inaugural year of the new building complex.
Prior to her positions at The Blanton, Wicha was director of development for the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum in Long Island City, Queens, and director of annual giving for the Julliard School in New York City. She holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from The University of Texas at Austin, and completed the Institute of Arts Management Certificate Program at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She was accepted in 2010 to the prestigious Museum Leadership Institute at The Getty Leadership Institute in California — a course that provides a strategic perspective to the problems and opportunities facing today’s museums.