Bennington Museum director stepping down

Robert Wolterstorff, executive director of the Bennington Museum, discusses the museum's membership in ArtCountry with the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts, the Clark Art Institute, the Williams College Museum of Art and the Williamstown Theatre Festival in June 2018.

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BENNINGTON — After nearly seven years as executive director of the Bennington Museum, Robert Wolterstorff is stepping down to take a similar position with a museum in Connecticut.

"I'm really sad to be leaving, because I feel my work isn't done," Wolterstorff said in an interview on Friday, the day the Bennington Museum announced his upcoming departure. "We were in the business of — I'm going to make this bold statement — reinventing the museum."

Wolterstorff said he had not been looking to leave the Bennington Museum, which he joined in August 2012, but couldn't turn his back on an offer to lead the bigger Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut.

His ideas have apparently helped reignite interest and funding to the Bennington Museum, which goes back to 1852 and has a built up a collection of 40,000 objects.

Edie Sawitsky, chairwoman of Bennington Museum's board of trustees, said Wolterstorff established Bennington modernism as a central part of the museum's mission, oversaw the creation of new galleries and started an edgier exhibition program.

These include "Alice Neel/Erastus Salisbury Field" in 2014, "Grandma Moses: American Modern" in 2017 and a series of one-night live tattoo exhibitions.

"That led to more visitors, new energy, increased support and fiscal stability," Sawitsky said in a prepared statement. "We are really sorry to lose him, but we understand it's a chance to move up."

Wolterstorff's believes art — no matter when it was created — should appeal to people of the present and that his role is to showcase its connection to today.

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"All art was once contemporary," he said. "The world is all about change, and we need to embrace change."

The museum also credits Wolterstorff for finally balancing its budget since the 2016 to 2017 fiscal year.

Wolterstorff said a huge part of this accomplishment is attracting donations, which make up 50 percent of Bennington Museum's annual budget. Ticket sales account for only 11 percent of its budget.

Maintaining the museum's fiscal stability, continuing its reinvention and starting its landscaping project are among the challenges that await his successor.

When he joined the Bennington Museum, Wolterstorff was working as an independent curator and non-profit consultant based in Portland, Maine. He previously served as director of Victoria Mansion in Portland and of Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion in Philadelphia, and has held curatorial and research positions in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Clark Art Institute, the Williams College Museum of Art and the college's Chapin Rare Book Library.

Wolterstorff will leave his position in May. The museum's board of trustees has established a director search committee, and intends to launch a nationwide search for the next permanent executive director, according to a statement from the museum.

Tiffany Tan can be reached at, @tiffgtan at Twitter and 802-447-7567 ext. 122.


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