Lansing Art Gallery director leaves for Michigan state fundraising job

The direction of the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center is changing as Executive Director Barb Whitney announced her departure after eight years at the helm of the organization.

Whitney, who became executive director in 2014 after 10 years at the gallery, is leaving April 1 for a new position as associate director of cultural arts development at Michigan State University.

The position is a newly created role focused on fundraising for the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum and the Michigan State University Museum, including major gifts of $50,000 and more.

“It’s incredibly bittersweet,” she said. “It’s been a labor of love in just about every way I can think of. A part of my heart will always be with the gallery.

Whitney recently oversaw the gallery’s move last winter from its previous underground location to its sixth home inside Knapp’s Center at 300 S. Washington Square.

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Director of Education Michelle Carlson will serve as interim executive director on the recommendation of Whitney, who described her as a strategic thinker who can stay calm during times of stress.

Carlson has worked at the gallery since 2017. Her tenure as interim director will continue through the gallery’s fiscal year, and the board is assessing next steps for a longer-term appointment and beginning the process to hire of a new Director of Education. Carlson intends to apply for the position of permanent executive director.

“I hope it’s a good transition and that our community is still supporting the gallery, because it’s more about the gallery,” she said. “We need to have strong leaders in the roles, but it’s really about our job and what the gallery means to the community.”

Whitney said a point of pride is leaving the gallery in financial stability after weathering the COVID-19 pandemic, an effort bolstered by the ArtPath public art program and online stores allowing artists to sell their work.

She drew inspiration from former chief executive Catherine Babcock, who worked to maintain the gallery’s non-profit status during the financial difficulties of the 2008 economic crisis.

“I’m proud to leave the gallery prominently,” Whitney said. “We’re an agency that’s been established for over 50 years in this community, built by community members and run by them for decades. As executive directors, we’re really just shepherds for a while.”

Contact journalist Annabel Aguiar at Follow her on Twitter @annabelaguiar.

William E. Bennett