MONTCLAIR, NJ - A new executive director has taken the helm at Montclair Art Museum, officials announced on Friday.
Upon long-time director Lora Urbanelli’s retirement last spring, Ira Wagner had served as the interim executive director pending the arrival of a successor. After the pandemic forced closures in March of 2020, Wagner helped guide the staff through the challenges, making him a suitable choice for the permanent post. The new appointment makes him the 10th director since the museum’s founding in 1914.
“I am delighted that my good friend and long-time partner has accepted this challenge. The board and I are excited about the museum’s future and have never been more confident in MAM’s leadership, financial position, and programmatic relevance to Northern New Jersey,” museum president Frank Walter said.
While most public venues in New York and New Jersey remained closed, MAM reopened with hybrid operations starting in September 2020. According to officials, the museum’s exhibitions have since rebounded to pre-pandemic levels of attendance, according to the release.
“Ira combines hands-on experience as a Wall Street banker, non-profit financial manager, university-level arts educator, practicing artist and published photographer,” Walter added.
Wagner and his wife Denise raised their family in Montclair and for over 30 years have been active supporters of the region’s cultural, education and civic organizations. He served as MAM Board trustee for 15 years and as MAM’s Treasurer and Director of Strategic Initiatives.
“When the pandemic forced the museum to shutter operations in March 2020 and suspend its director search, Wagner, along with staff and trustees, guided the museum through unprecedented challenges. MAM successfully preserved its human, physical and financial resources; pivoted the museum to virtual operations; and launched both digital and programmatic transformations of curatorial, education and visitor services,” museum officials said in a press release.
“As interim director, I have seen over the last year the results of the hard work of an incredibly dedicated, talented and creative team of staff, board, instructors and volunteers that has enabled the museum to innovate, to remain connected with, and even grow our audience. With their support, I look forward to building on the steps we’ve taken to continue to inspire our community with creative exhibitions and programming and to serve as a place where the arts play a leading role in fighting the injustices in our society,” Wagner said.
With expansion plans on the horizon, after obtaining approved in late 2019, MAM has announced continuance of plans to expand outdoors to create an art plaza on the south side of the building to serve as an outdoor gathering and museum events space. The highlight of the space will be a 48-foot wide, 10-foot high waterfall wall and a reflecting pond.