Director of Allen Memorial Art Museum Moves to Cornell

Nancy Roane, Staff Writer

After seven years as John G.W. Cowles director of the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Stephanie Wiles will leave Nov. 7 to become director of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University. The search for a new director will begin soon, with hopes of completion by the spring. Katie Solender, OC ’77, will serve as an interim director and a member of the search committee to find the replacement.

While serving as director, Wiles organized and executed countless exhibitions, obtained major endowments and grants of over $3 million for the museum, led the museum to increase its online presence and oversaw the recently completed LEED gold-certified renovation of the museum. She worked to increase the museum’s presence in the College, and now almost 200 classes from 26 different disciplines utilize the museum for educational purposes. Even during the 18-month period when the museum was closed, Wiles worked to keep Oberlin’s art rental program going. “I said ‘I really don’t want to be the director that has a break in the art rental program, so we came up with a method of renting out at the Root Room,” Wiles said.

When the director of the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell retired after a 19-year term, Wiles took the opportunity to move to a larger university with graduate programs in art history. However, she said she is happy that the transition will happen after the completion of the large-scale renovation project. “It was an opportunity to make a change at a good time. To make sure that all the projects I set out to do I completed. I feel really happy about that. … It seemed like an appropriate time to try something different.”

Solender, who will temporarily fill Wiles’s position, graduated from Oberlin in 1977 with a Bachelor’s degree in art history and returned to campus from 2003 to 2004 to serve as interim director, a role she will now fill again during the search for a new director. She has over 30 years of experience working in museums and as an arts editor, as well as advocating for community arts. Solender plans to have an active role in the museum during her term as interim director. “I see my role as helping keep the museum moving forward with no loss of momentum,” Solender said. “In tandem with the AMAM’s terrific staff, I’ll look for ways to operate even more efficiently and review and update policy and planning documents. If I do my job well, the new director will be able to hit the ground running.”

An advertisement for the open position will be posted soon and community, College and student representatives will participate in the process by meeting with and giving feedback on finalist candidates. English professor Nick Jones chairs the search committee. Sean Decatur, Dean of Arts and Sciences, cited via e-mail several attributes that the committee will look for in a new director: “experience in museum administration and leadership; an understanding and appreciation of the special role that a museum collection (especially one as strong as that of the AMAM) plays in the academic, intellectual and artistic life of the College; the ability to communicate to and collaborate with a broad constituency, including students, faculty, alumni, community members and friends of the museum.”

Both Wiles and Solender are optimistic about AMAM’s future. Wiles said she feels that a new and successful director will certainly fill the position. “I think that the museum physically is in such good condition now that people will want to work here. There will be an opportunity to get somebody new with different vision to do something maybe entirely different, which will be exciting.”

Solender also thinks that the future of AMAM is indeed a bright one. She said, “The AMAM is poised for great things. Now, more than ever, the museum is embedded in the lives of Oberlin students and faculty. Through programs, exhibitions, publications, the website and more, the AMAM will continue to engage an expanding audience, both on campus and beyond.”