Kalamazoo Institute of Arts announces the appointment of the new Executive Director

Courtesy of the Figge Art Museum. Photo by Randy Justis.

After an extensive, nationwide search led by a search committee comprising Board and Community members in cooperation with a talent acquisition firm, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (KIA) is very excited to welcome a new Executive Director to its staff and community.

With a unanimous recommendation from the Board of Directors, Michelle Hargrave has accepted the position of Executive Director at the KIA. She comes to us from the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa, renowned for its innovative exhibitions, programs, and community collaborations and home to one of the Midwest’s finest art collections.

With over two decades of dedicated service, Michelle Hargrave brings extensive experience and a proven track record in the museum field. As the Executive Director and CEO at the Figge Art Museum, she spearheaded transformative initiatives that elevated the museum’s status and resulted in notable growth. Her achievements include securing major acquisitions and gifts, increasing earned and contribute revenue, developing key partnerships with national organizations such as the Art Bridges Foundation, further diversifying the museum’s collections and programming, and significantly growing the museum’s studio school program. Additionally, she secured funding for what will be the largest public artwork in Iowa, an ambitious light sculpture by internationally acclaimed artist Leo Villareal, set to illuminate the Figge’s façade in 2025. With a deep commitment to ensuring museums serve their communities with excellence and inclusion, she expanded free admission periods and collaborated closely with regional partners to expand meaningful programming, outreach, and accessibility. Prior roles include Deputy Director at the New Britain Museum of American Art and Curator at the American Federation of Arts.

A native Michigander, Michelle is looking forward to returning to her home state. She received an undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan and also holds a Masters of Art from The Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design, and Material Culture.

Search Committee and Board of Directors member James Liggins, Jr commented on Michelle, saying, “Michelle Hargrave rose to the top of the list of a very competitive and diverse candidate pool of potential executive directors for the KIA. She provided the clearest combination of robust and high-level museum executive director experience coupled with a powerful vision of how to shepherd the KIA through its continued growth as a premiere arts museum not just in Southwest Michigan but in the nation. Michelle came to the search process with a strong and genuine appreciation of the great work accomplished during the previous administration and substantive knowledge on how to capitalize on our momentum as we enter into our next 100 years as an institution”.

Michelle will be an innovative leader to propel the KIA into the next 100 years with the community we serve. Chair of the Board of Directors, Perry Wolfe, remarked on the news of her appointment saying, “The KIA, over the last 100 years, has demonstrated the power of people, place, and art, establishing itself as a premier institution in the sector. In the next 100 years, with Michelle’s strategic leadership, we will see exciting innovations, greater engagement, and continued excellence in museum, education, and collections.”

Michelle expressed her enthusiasm for the new opportunity, stating, “I am honored to join the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, a dynamic institution that embodies the belief that the arts are for everyone, and look forward to collaborating with the dedicated Board members, KIA colleagues, and vibrant community to further enrich the institution’s legacy of artistic excellence and community engagement. Together, we will build upon the foundation laid by previous leadership and chart an exciting course for the future of the museum that fosters creativity, inclusivity, innovation, and meaningful connections through the transformative power of art.”

Since 1924, the KIA has offered its visitors the opportunity to enjoy and create art. The KIA’s permanent collection holds more than 5,000 objects across a wide spectrum of media, and the museum stages 10-15 exhibitions, both drawn from its own works as well as touring shows, annually in its ten galleries. In addition to its exhibition spaces, the museum houses the KIA Gallery Shop, which sells pieces by international artisans and local and regional artists, a multi-media auditorium, a publicly accessible library, and an interactive children’s gallery.

Expanded offerings, collaborations, and outreach will celebrate 100 years of excellence in the arts and bring the KIA’s unparalleled resources to a wider audience than ever before. These special initiatives will give back to the community in appreciation for 100 years of growth, and deepen the ability of all Kalamazooans to find joy, learn from one another, and grow. Through close listening and renewed creativity, the anniversary will illuminate the pathway for the Institute’s next 100 years.

We are pleased to have partnered with James Abruzzo and Philip DeBoer from DHR Global in recruiting premier talent for this position. Michelle will begin her role in Kalamazoo on May 6th, 2024.