Kemper Museum Of Contemporary Art Will Search For A New Executive Director

Dec 1, 2017

Barbara O'Brien resigned as executive director of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in early November.
Credit Courtesy: Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Barbara O'Brien, who had served as executive director of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, for more than five years, left the museum on November 3, according to a statement posted on the Kemper's website.

"We are grateful to Barbara for her many years of service at the Kemper," Mary Kemper Wolf, chairman of the museum's board of trustees, said in the statement.

"Barbara led the Kemper through an important period of transition during her tenure," Wolf added. "We wish Barbara well as she explores new opportunities going forward." 

O'Brien declined to comment to KCUR. But in the museum's statement, she said, "The museum's strong position provides me with an opportunity to take stock of my personal and professional goals and consider future opportunities, and, as a result, I have decided to resign as executive director." 

Serving as the Kemper's executive director, she added, "has been the highlight of my professional life."

O'Brien grew up in Bonner Springs, Kansas, but she spent the bulk of her career in Massachusetts as a gallery director and assistant professor, public art consultant and editor-in-chief. She returned to the Kansas City area in 2009 to serve as curator of the Kemper. 

O'Brien assumed the role as the museum's executive director and chief curator in 2012, three weeks after the departure of director Rachael Blackburn Cozad. The museum cited "financial challenges" amid a series of staff cuts.

Wolf was not available for comment beyond the statement posted on the museum's website. Recent tax documents show the institution appears to be on secure financial footing, with revenue tracking above expenses from 2011-2015. Museum officials reported an attendance boost of nearly 5 percent in 2016, with more than 100,000 visitors. And the museum recently completed a three-year strategic plan.

A national search for the next executive director is expected to be launched in early 2018. An interim director will step in until a replacement has been selected. 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @lauraspencer.