The Contemporary Austin Finds Its New Head in the Headlands

The museum's new director, sharon maidenberg, has run a renowned multidisciplinary arts center in the Bay Area for 10 years

sharon maidenberg
sharon maidenberg

Last June, at about the time that Louis Grachos left his post as director and CEO of the Contemporary Austin, the Headlands Center for the Arts in Northern California held its most successful benefit art auction to date, raising more than $900,000 for the renowned multidisciplinary arts center in the Marin Headlands on the Pacific coast. What's the connection? That center's executive director for the past 10 years, sharon maidenberg, has been named Grachos' successor at the Contemporary.

The appointment follows an international search to fill the leadership post, and it would be interesting to know what about maidenberg won over the search committee and trustees. On the one hand, she's spent her entire professional career – 20 years – in the Bay Area, this will be her first museum gig, and she's coming to an organization with an annual budget of almost $7 million from one with a budget closer to $4 million. On the other, her studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison focused on contemporary African art, she's been dealing with and making connections with lots of important contemporary artists for a decade (700 is the number cited in the press release), and that $4 million budget is triple what it was when she took over leadership of the center. (She also doubled the staff.)

Of course, there can also be factors beyond the balance sheet. Board President Valerie Armstrong cites maidenberg's "great energy and deep experience working with living artists, along with strong values-driven organizational leadership and mission-driven strategic thinking." That echoes the feelings of the chair of the Headlands board in her letter announcing maidenberg's departure, which spoke of "seeing [maidenberg's] energy and passion suffuse every corner of this organization, creatively pushing our bounds."

Austin is a long way from the Bay Area, but maidenberg appears to have worked that out already on at least one point: She won't be starting work here until after the August blast furnace is done. She takes over Sept. 1. With her will be her husband, Jared Blum, who as a musician should feel at home here, and son Silas, age 6.

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The Contemporary Austin, sharon maidenberg, Louis Grachos, Headlands Center for the Arts

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