After a year’s hiatus from the museum world, Heidi Zuckerman returns to the fold with a new job as director and chief executive of the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) in Costa Mesa, California. The museum has been closed since 2018, except for temporary spaces, awaiting relocation to a new building in the city’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts complex.
While the new location is not far away, the museum had previously sat amidst high-rise office towers and was easy to miss. The new site puts it adjacent to South Coast Plaza, an upscale shopping mall that draws some 24 million visitors a year.
Zuckerman had left her position as director of the Aspen Art Museum in Colorado at the end of September 2019, remaining as a consultant until February 2020. There she had overseen a dynamic exhibitions program and the construction of a new facility designed by Shigeru Ban. In a telephone interview, she admitted that she had not been looking for another museum job: she left Aspen saying she had done all she had wanted to do at a museum.
She started the weekly podcast "Conversations about Art," interviewing artists, gallerists, musicians and innovators from the Guerrilla Girls to Rufus Wainwright. Then last summer, an OCMA board member contacted her about the position, and she was intrigued–and she happened to have a trip planned to Orange County. “I love museums, and I love museum construction of new buildings,” she says.
Zuckerman took a hardhat tour of the construction. “I got really excited about what I saw. And I started thinking a lot about the history [of the museum] and its founding by 13 women and the progressiveness of that endeavour,” she says, adding, “There just was so much synergy that at a certain point it felt really right.” She assumes the post on 8 February.
OCMA’s new 53,000-square-foot facility is designed by Morphosis, the Los Angeles based firm led by Pritzker Prize-winner Thom Mayne, with 25,000 sq. feet of exhibition space. The total cost is projected to be $75m, of which $53m has been raised. “The building was designed to be very permeable, to create this opportunity to move freely between the inside and the outside,” Zuckerman says. “There could be traditional work that can be outside for a certain period of time, performances, film screenings.”
The museum's search for a new director resulted from the departure of Todd D. Smith, who left last August to become director of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Heidi is an innovative and inspiring museum leader who combines a deep love for art and artists with an exceptional record of leading museums to be entrepreneurial, vibrant and sustainable," says Craig Wells, the chairman of OCMA’s board.
The specifics of future programming remain to be worked out, as will the hiring of a chief curator. “I've always known that art saves lives,” Zuckerman says. “Without art and culture, I think this year would have been even more bleak than it was. And I feel a moral obligation to try and bring as many people to that experience as possible.”
After she takes over, “my goal for my first 100 days is to do a lot of listening and to talk to the broadest possible group of people about what they've loved about the museum, and some of the things that they think we could have done better, or things that they would like to see,” Zuckerman says. “One of the things that has drawn me to the museum is not just the history, but also the potential future."