Most of what I’ve seen so far regarding today’s naming of Stephanie Stebich, director since 2005 of the Tacoma Art Museum, to become the next director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM), has left unmentioned her most notable (and laudable) past Smithsonian connection: In 2012, her Tacoma (WA) Art Museum proudly hosted the controversial HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. That praiseworthy, hot-button show was organized by SAAM’s collegial sister institution, which shares the same building—the National Portrait Gallery (NPG).
Stebich told Peggy McGlone of the Washington Post that the SAAM directorship was her “dream job.” I consider Stebich to be a dream choice.
SAAM’s press release (linked at the top), discretely omits the “Hide/Seek” connection but provides this impressive list of accomplishments in Tacoma:
Stebich has raised funds for a major renovation that doubled the museum’s exhibition space [and] developed and implemented a strategic plan as well as a 10-year collection plan. She increased the collection by 2,000 works of art….She launched a capital campaign with a goal of $17 million in 2010 and has raised more than $37 million to date.
She increased the full-time staff by 20 percent and added endowed curator, educator and fellow positions in recent years. More than 100 exhibitions opened during Stebich’s tenure, including Matika Wilbur‘s “Project 562,” “Edvard Munch and the Sea” and “Art AIDS America” and traveling exhibitions of works by Norman Rockwell and Georgia O’Keeffe.”
On Feb. 4, Tacoma will open another NPG-organized show: The Outwin 2016: American Portraiture Today.
The one extensive conversation that I had with Stephanie occurred when she served as assistant director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, under the directorship of the late Bob Bergman. She impressed me then with her deep knowledge of enthusiasm for CMA’s complicated, ambitious expansion plans, overcoming some of my skepticism.