E. Michael Whittington has recently been appointed president and CEO of the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Whittington’s experiences range from curating international art shows to heading a museum in California specifically dedicated to the art of the Monterey Peninsula in that state.
I started my career as a curator, and I am an academic art historian. I did my graduate research on pre-Colombian art in Peru. I attended the University of Florida and worked in that field for a number of years. I did a major exhibition at The Mint Museum in Charlotte, N.C.; it was a large, international show with international loans. It was a very fulfilling career for me while I was a curator, but during that period I realized I had begun to enjoy some of the non-curatorial aspects: the fundraising, marketing, merchandising. I took that as an indication that I should move into different museum work and that would be as a director. Here I am; that was the right move for me.
(Most recently), I was executive director of Monterey Museum of Art in Monterey, Calif., which is a remarkable organization that is dedicated to the art of California, specifically the traditional art of the Monterey Peninsula. It not only has a very rich painting tradition that developed in the late 19th century, but the photography is one of the aspects known around the world. Photographers like Ansel Adams and Edward Weston worked and lived in that area. Coincidentally, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art houses a growing collection of Brett Weston photography, who was the son of Edward Weston. Plus, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art has extraordinary California paintings from artists like David Park and Richard Diebenkorn. I may be leaving California, but there will be some wonderful reminders all around me.
I had only been to Oklahoma City once previously, and that was on a cross-country drive 15 or 16 years ago. What intrigued me (about the Oklahoma City Museum of Art) was the website. It was obviously a very sophisticated organization with intriguing programming. Then, when I got the chance to visit Oklahoma City on my trip out to visit the museum, what intrigued me was Oklahoma City itself. I had never been any place where the people were genuinely friendly and concerned. When I walked around downtown and saw the exciting projects going on downtown, the combination of corporate, private individuals and government being a part of downtown, it’s one of the most exciting places in the United States, I thought, “I’ve got to be a part of that.”
One of the things I’m excited about is being part of the downtown renaissance. I’ll be living downtown. I’ll be able to walk to the museum, walk to work, partake in all of the downtown activities. I’m excited about being a part, both professionally and personally, of everything that’s going on in Oklahoma City.