Press Releases

Akron Art Museum Director to Step Down after Record Tenure

New Chief Curator to Start August 20, 2012

For Release: August 13, 2012

Leadership changes are on the horizon for the Akron Art Museum.

After 26 years as director, with one of the longest tenures of any art museum leader in the country, Dr. Mitchell D. Kahan announced to the Akron Art Museum’s Board of Trustees that he will leave January 2, 2013 and assume the title of Director Emeritus. In addition, Janice Driesbach will join the staff on August 20, after a year-long national search, as the museum’s new Chief Curator.

“Mitchell has brought an impressive record of achievement to the museum’s 90-year history. The Board is immensely grateful for his dedication, foresight, creativity and passion,” praised Fred Bidwell, president of the museum’s Board of Trustees. “His commitment to the cultural arts and the community will have a lasting impact in Akron and Northeast Ohio.”

Under Kahan’s direction, the Akron Art Museum enjoyed significant institutional growth: from a 25,000 square foot facility to 83,000 square feet; from an endowment of just over $2 million to well over $¬¬20 million following three endowment campaigns; from a collection of 2,000 objects to over 5,000; from a staff of 22 to over 50; and a capital campaign that raised $44.8 million surpassing the final goal of $42 million. Most significantly for future generations, Kahan raised almost $5 million in permanent endowment funds for purchases of art; there were no funds for art purchases when he arrived in1986.

“The biggest and perhaps most rewarding challenge of my career was working with one of the world’s leading architects, Wolf Prix, on the museum expansion,” said Kahan, who was able to utilize his early training in architectural history and his great love of contemporary design. The John S. and James L. Knight Building received worldwide acclaim when it opened in 2007. It earned a 2008 Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) International Award and was a finalist for the prestigious Lubetkin Prize.

Because of his significant contributions and accomplishments, he has received many prestigious awards including those from the Ohio Museums Association, Cleveland Arts Prize and Case Western Reserve University’s Mandel Center for Nonprofit Management.

Kahan plans to continue living in the Akron area with his partner Christopher Hixson and will focus on foundation management, arts journalism and making art.

Driesbach, a native of Lakewood, Ohio, has worked as both a curator and museum director. After an undergraduate degree in art history and political science from Allegheny College, she received her M.A. in art history from University of Iowa, where she studied with art historian Frank Seiberling (son of Goodyear founder F.A. Seiberling). She later worked at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento as Curator of Art and held two museum directorships, at the University of Nebraska’s Sheldon Museum of Art and The Dayton Art Institute.

“It is an honor to join the Akron Art Museum as chief curator. I am eager to work with the museum's strong and dynamic collection and to undertake new collaborations,” Driesbach said. “I look forward to working with the talented and dedicated staff and volunteers, engaging with art and artists, and becoming part of the Akron community.”

Her specialty is American art, and she has spearheaded numerous collaborations among cultural institutions on a variety of topics. Driesbach helped to develop the collection of American contemporary sculpture at University of Nebraska and in Sacramento expanded institutional holdings of regional art, a dual approach that mirrors Akron’s commitment to both regional art and developments elsewhere. She is delighted to return to her first love, curatorial work. Her husband John is a printmaker and is a retired professor of art from California State University-Sacramento, where he earlier served as chair of the art department. Their two daughters live in Chicago and Fort Collins.

“Jan’s experience in museum management will be an immense asset as we move forward in our executive search for Mitchell’s successor,” said Bidwell. “In addition, there is strong continuity on the board, which has complete confidence in the museum’s present leadership staff.” A national search committee will be comprised of museum past presidents. “We are anticipating significant interest in the position due to the museum’s national reputation,” Bidwell added.

About the Akron Art Museum

The Akron Art Museum, dedicated to enriching lives through modern art, showcases regional, national and international art created since 1850. The museum’s collection houses over 5,000 objects. Particular areas of strength include contemporary painting and sculpture and 20th century photography. Nearly a dozen exhibitions each year present prominent artists in various media including painting, sculpture, photography, video, design and glass.

In addition to its ever-changing collection and exhibitions, the museum offers many opportunities to discover new perspectives through dynamic programs that include films and videos, lectures, workshops, tours and concerts.

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