Austin Museum of Art

Director Dana Friis-Hansen departs

Dana Friis-Hansen
Dana Friis-Hansen (Photo by Denise Price)

Dana Friis-Hansen, who's worked with the Austin Museum of Art since 1999 and served as its executive director for the past nine years, is leaving that institution. The news was made public by AMOA board of trustees President Lynn Sherman on Friday, Jan. 14, after staff members were notified of the move. Although the announcement took many within the arts community by surprise, Sherman says the move had been under discussion for some time. Reasons for the departure were not disclosed, but Sherman says that the decision was arrived at mutually. "There's a tremendous amount of respect between Dana and the museum, so we're trying to work our way through in a way that's as representative of that respect as possible." Friis-Hansen echoed this in an e-mail to the Chronicle, stating: "I am weighing some great opportunities for me, and it is a favorable situation for me personally and for the institution, which I know will move forward onto great things with new leadership."

As of Tuesday, Jan. 18, the terms of Friis-Hansen's departure were still being worked out. Sherman said that Jack Nokes, who was brought on to the museum staff in mid-December to serve as chief operating officer, has been charged with initiating a search for a successor to Friis-Hansen. The process and time frame for that search have not yet been determined, but Sherman says that the board is intent on moving forward relatively quickly.

Friis-Hansen's tenure at AMOA was never exactly easy. He wasn't even two years into his stint as chief curator when Executive Director Elizabeth Ferrer resigned and he was tapped to serve as interim executive director, which meant dealing with the fallout of that year's board resignations, staff layoffs, and withdrawal of a $6 million pledge toward AMOA's proposed new Downtown facility. And after he was named permanent director in 2002, a pair of economic downturns continued to take a toll on the museum staff and budget as well as take down two plans to realize AMOA's three-decade dream of a Downtown home. In the last month, that protracted tale took another turn as the museum board sold the block where it had long planned to build that facility, raising new questions about AMOA's future home. Still, despite all those setbacks, Friis-Hansen managed to develop AMOA as an institution and cultivate its audience. He built attendance through thoughtful programming with hit touring shows such as the Andy Warhol retrospective and public programs that connected art to the larger community. He maintained an infectious enthusiasm for contemporary art, which he shared generously. And he significantly deepened AMOA's connection to Austin's visual arts community, providing strong support for local artists through the triennial "New Art in Austin" exhibits, the ongoing "New Works" series, and shows such as the current "Advancing Tradition: Twenty Years of Printmaking at Flatbed Press." He made an impact, and his knowledge, leadership, and passion will be missed at AMOA.

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