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Arts & Culture

New Director for Dubuque Museum of Art

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The Dubuque Museum of Art has a new leader, who brings wide-ranging experience from working at major art museums in New York City, Chicago, and Indianapolis.

Following an extensive search, the museum hired 48 year old Gary Stoppelman to be the next Executive Director. He succeeds David Schmitz, who left to become Administrator of the Iowa Arts Council. 

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Credit Dubuque Museum of Art
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Gary Stoppelman, newly hired Executive Director of the Dubuque Museum of Art

During his 25-year career, Stoppelman has worked for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and he led the re-branding project for Indiana’s largest cultural organization, the Indianapolis Museum of Art. 

He says he was interested in the job in Dubuque, partly because of its long commitment to the community. It was founded in 1874.

“The mission squarely focuses the work of the museum on improving the life of this community; the vision says how. By its vision to become a cultural hub.”

“The values squarely assert the transformative power of art on people, and I say all of that because the next thing I discovered as I did my research was they back up how this museum, this team, backs up that commitment with action. Not every museum in my experience is fully committed to impact on its community.

“Many museums have a legacy of being built for, and about and around objects. We build these limestone fortresses that are really about protecting and preserving, and in many cases that’s literally the mission – to protect and preserve the objects.”

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Credit Dubuque Museum of Art
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the Dubuque Museum of Art

To engage the public and stay relevant, the Dubuque Museum of Art has asked people to submit exhibit ideas, welcomed families for partnerships, and tried to find personal and original works for the upcoming “Portraits of a Pandemic,” to be on display from October to February.

“The entire industry is shifting and for the better. This has happened throughout my career, that there’s been this shift, this recognition that we need to do better.”

“There is something to be said about the fact this is a smaller, more nimble institution, I think in many ways is ahead of some of the larger institutions, that just are bigger ships and slower to turn. The coronavirus pandemic really just accelerated these forces that were already there. They accelerated, if we did not, for both sides of the equation – for the institution and the public. They increased the opportunity for change and how we engage with museums, who has access to it, and the meanings they have in our lives."

“All of a sudden, for so many people, when we were locked in our homes, what we found was this clamoring to engage with the great art, of the greatest cultures, and the ability because of the Internet, to do that now at the click of a button.”

Stoppelman says museums are finding creative ways to experiment, learn, and adapt, and are not looking back. 

Since re-opening with safety and cleaning rules, the museum in Dubuque  has increased attendance from a year ago, reflecting pent-up demand.

“People are longing for that connection, that place of belonging and inspiration, that museums provide.”

The new director is working remotely before moving to Dubuque by the end of the month. Stoppelman has been in Indianapolis for five years, where he was Deputy Director for Marketing and External Affairs at Newfields, the large campus including the art museum. His team increased attendance, doubled income, tripled membership, and supported the launch of a $21-million fundraising campaign.

Before that, Stoppelman served for seven years as Director of Marketing for the Art Institute of Chicago, and 12 years helping major non-profits grow in New York, including at The Met and Museum of Modern Art. He earned a BFA from New York University and an MBA from Columbia University.

For more information on DuMA, visit dbqart.org.