A Conversation With Jeremy Mikolajczak, the New CEO of Phoenix Art Museum
Phoenix Art Museum is welcoming a new leader this month. Jeremy Mikolajczak will serve as the CEO and Sybil Harrington director of the acclaimed Valley institution. Previously the CEO of the Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block, Mikolajczak brings extensive experience as a museum executive, curator and community leader and is known for his focus on education and engagement. “Our community will be at the center of where we go forward,” he says of his vision for the museum. “I am truly privileged to have an incredible staff and engaged board as we spend the next couple of months identifying and amplifying the intellectual assets of the museum, addressing social inequities in our organization and programs, and building a framework for future success.” We recently sat down with Mikolajczak to discuss his plans to diversify the museum’s offerings, from the people and cultures represented in the artworks to the growing need to engage younger audiences.
Q&A With Phoenix Art Museum’s Jeremy Mikolajczak
What was it that drew you to Phoenix Art Museum?
I think it fair to say that museums have faced unprecedented challenges over the past two years. We continue to re-evaluate our impact within our communities and the future role of art museums in general. Post-pandemic and going forward, museums must commit to the demands of a changing world while carrying and growing our audiences along the way. These questions are important to me as a museum leader and are crucial to my interest in Phoenix and the directorship position at Phoenix Art Museum (PhxArt). I think we are at a pivotal moment for our state and region when it comes to setting the course for the visual arts, and PhxArt plays a large part in that vision. Arizona and the Southwest have vibrant cultural histories that have shaped our region for generations. Building upon the great work of prior directors, I am honored to step into the role and lead the institution focusing on its next chapter. A future that addresses, reflects and responds to a fast-growing and ever-changing global city and populations while refining and building a world-class collection in public trust.
You’ve been in Arizona for about 6 years now. Is there anything about it that stands out to you, that you’ve enjoyed?
The most important attribute I’ve enjoyed since relocating to Arizona is continual discovery and just how rich, diverse, dimensional and complex the arts and culture sector is in the state. I’ve learned so much in the past six years and continually discover artists, stories, and histories. These discoveries continue to shape my understanding and respect for those who have built and thrive in the region today. I assume, like most individuals who relocate to our great state, the landscape and geography are equally as powerful, and we underestimate just how important it influences our daily lives. I also must add that the people make the place, and Arizona is home to a growing community of diverse, generous, inspiring and warm individuals. These two factors make us unique to other parts of the country and why we are drawn to and remain in the region.
You’ve led efforts to engage with various multicultural communities in Florida and Arizona. Why do you think this is an important effort for museums?
The defining and most important question for any museum director that guides decision-making is who do we serve? I firmly believe the impact and importance of museums are measured by the communities they serve. Suppose a community or individual cannot see themselves reflected within the art on view, impacted by one of the various programs presented by the museum, or the possibility of a museum profession as a place for them. In that case, we are not doing our job. We must be community-centered, break down as many barriers as possible, and build greater agency in community voices within our institutions.
From my perspective, there are two critical factors in why engaging diverse communities and building equity and inclusive representation are substantial at museums. The first and most essential factor is that we are becoming increasingly more diverse as a city, state and region. If a museum truly believes and states that it represents a city and its people, we must be able to back that up. That does not mean we disregard our past, but as we look forward, we are reflective of our ability to represent on a broader scale to an intersectional audience.
The second factor is building the next generation of museumgoers. We have a responsibility to pass on knowledge and connect younger generations to the world of art and its ability to spark wonder, exploration and inspiration. I think we can all remember our first visit to a museum, whether it was an art, history or science museum. In many cases, that experience shaped who we are today. In our case, Phoenix Art Museum is the keeper of our collective cultures, stories and histories for our city and region. If we do not embrace that responsibility, including who is part of and connected to those narrative, then we risk losing sense of why cultural institutions are necessary to our futures.
Tell us about your vision for Phoenix Art Museum as director and CEO.
I am in the beginning stages of this journey, and it is a bit too early to have a definitive or single vision for Phoenix Art Museum. But what I can say is that our community will be at the center of where we go forward. I am greatly looking forward to getting on the ground and engaging in conversations with various constituents throughout the Valley. I am truly privileged to have an incredible staff and engaged board as we spend the next couple of months identifying and amplifying the intellectual assets of the museum, addressing social inequities in our organization and programs, and building a framework for future success.
For more and for the latest exhibits, visit phxart.org.