Western Carolina University taps Martin DeWitt as 1st art museum director

CULLOWHEE – Martin DeWitt, director of the Tweed Museum of Art at the University of Minnesota-Duluth since 1990, has been named founding director of the museum of art within the Fine and Performing Arts Center currently under construction at Western Carolina University.

The new museum, when complete, will include four separate art galleries comprising more than 4,470 square feet. Individual galleries will hold Western’s permanent collection, and rotating displays of contemporary art, drawings, and student work. The museum also will feature a gift shop, and a large lobby area leading to the galleries.

An acclaimed artist whose paintings and mixed media constructions have been exhibited nationally and internationally, DeWitt brings a valuable set of skills to his role at the Cullowhee museum, said Robert Vartabedian, dean of Western’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“Since 1990, Martin DeWitt has been the highly successful director and chief executive officer of the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Tweed Museum of Art, a 32,000 square-foot, $10 million, state-of-the-art museum,” Vartabedian said. “Mr. DeWitt is not only a very accomplished arts administrator, he is a gifted painter in his own right – with two graduate degrees in painting. I am confident that he will be a superb founding museum director of our new Fine and Performing Arts Center.”

DeWitt, who arrived in Cullowhee in early September, said he is looking forward to the experience of getting a brand new art museum up and running.

“I am taking this opportunity to explore new ventures and new challenges in the museum profession and to be able to continue teaching while remaining active in the studio,” he said. “It is very exciting for me to come in as founding director for the art museum within the new center at Western. Offering a vision with sleeves rolled up is just the kind of development process in which I want to be a partner, linking the museum to the local community and the region – and nationally and internationally, as well.”

DeWitt joined the Tweed Museum of Art initially as exhibits and collections curator, a position he held for four years before serving as its director for 13 years. During his tenure, he provided the leadership necessary to helped position Tweed as the foremost collecting fine arts institution and learning laboratory in the Upper Midwest region, gaining national recognition, Vartabedian said.

Tweed recently celebrated its milestone 50th anniversary year, which featured several exhibitions, special events and fund-raising initiatives.

Martin DeWitt

Martin DeWitt

While DeWitt jokes that his biggest achievement at Tweed was making possible the installation of the baby changing tables in the Tweed’s men’s room, additional career highlights include the securing of hundreds of new additions to the museum’s fine art collection through gifts and purchases; increasing access for collections research, guest scholars and community education; obtaining more than $3 million in private and public dollars for exhibitions, collections and programs; and organizing more than 150 exhibitions of contemporary and historical art, and national and international tours.

In addition to his arts administration duties, DeWitt has continued to teach painting, drawing, color theory, and selected contemporary and art historical issues. He has led international study trips, taught workshops in painting and drawing in Mexico, and exhibited his art in Cuba. He also helped coordinate an upcoming artist exchange with the Accademia di Belle Arti, Palermo, Italy, to occur in 2004, both in Duluth and in Palermo.

DeWitt earned a master of fine arts degree in painting at Illinois State University in 1979, and he was a Max Beckmann Painting Fellow at the Brooklyn Museum in 1977-78. His artwork is collected by private and corporate patrons and public institutions.

For more information about the museum in Western’s Fine and Performing Art Center, scheduled to open in spring 2004, call the art department at (828) 227-7210.