News and Announcements

New Kennedy Museum of Art Director Sandra Harris to start July 1

The Kennedy Museum of Art (KMA) will have a new leader at its helm beginning July 1 of this year. Professional museum administrator Sandra Harris has been hired as executive director of KMA, taking the place of former director Ed Pauley, who served in that role from 2008 until last fall. 

Harris most recently has served as executive director of American Women Artists and has an impressive resume in leadership for museum and cultural institutions across the country, including the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, the Hearst Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, and the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Arizona.

One of the primary reasons Harris was interested in joining KMA is the opportunity to return to work with students. She reflects that growing up she was surrounded by the arts, but her own professional career was deeply altered by her educational experience when “it all came together for me in a museum studies class in grad school at Arizona State.” 

Harris explains she found her niche at museums in part due to the variety of needs required for success. 

“What I love is that it combines education at the core, the art itself and its history. I also love the actual physical building and working with the public because every day is different," she said. "As an administrator, I like knowing a little bit about everything and helping talented people…all the things I’ve always cared about come together!”

Reflecting on previous work as an educator herself, Harris says, “it’s been really gratifying to see where students have gone, first seeing them get excited about what they might do with their careers and then helping them find that path. It's a huge responsibility, but it's so fun to work with students because they're teaching you at the same time.”

Harris sees the museum field as constantly evolving. 

“The things we were taught that were the industry standard have changed. There's not always a straight answer, so I give students the skills to be ready for change, analysis, and flexibility. Museums are not neutral," Harris added.

Returning to a love of the physical space that museums inhabit, Harris remarks that the Kennedy “is not unique among most museums in a space that wasn't meant to be a museum from the beginning. But what I like is that the staff has created these intimate experiences in each of those different spaces and galleries, which is a very unique kind of museum experience.”

With a professional history that also includes many capital campaigns and large-scale facilities projects, Harris is also interested in the possibilities. 

“The location on The Ridges… the museum is in the center of it, which is very exciting. It's poised not only for what it is now, but what is going to happen around it," she said. 

The prospect of moving to Appalachian Ohio is also one that excites Harris, saying that what drew her here is that so many interesting things are happening in the area already that the museum is and can be even more involved with.

"How do you bridge the gap between the community? I like trying to figure that out," Harris added. 

Originally from the Midwest, Harris is already ready to fit into the local culture. “I love travel and road trips! I’ve seen all 50 States and will seek out small towns with interesting festivals. The other side of the coin that sometimes people that are surprised is that half of my family is all about sports and I love sports!” 

Harris is excited to have landed in an ideal location for both her professional and personal passions and looks forward to arriving on campus this summer to begin her OHIO journey. 

April 23, 2024
Josh Coy