After bringing 'inclusion and innovation' to a Kansas City museum, Erin Dziedzic is leaving
The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art's lead curator guided groundbreaking exhibitions for 10 years, and championed the work of underrepresented and up-and-coming artists.
Looking back at her time in Kansas City, Erin Dziedzic, director of curatorial affairs at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, says an important part of her process was finding ways to stimulate local conversations about art.
"Being attuned to the voices that are in and around the community is essential" to curating, Dziedzic says. "So with a lot of the exhibitions I really thought about who was living in our community and who had some interesting projects in the past, and to revisit them."
After a decade of bringing thought-provoking exhibitions to the museum, with an emphasis on representing a diverse array of artistic voices, Dziedzic announced in June that she will leave the museum at the end of 2023.
Among the many exhibits she curated, one project hit all the marks for Dziedzic.
The 2016 exhibit "Siah Armajani: Bridge Builder" was the first dedicated to showcasing the bridge sculptures of American sculptor and architect Siah Armajani, who was born in Iran.
"If you if you scratch the surface just a little bit, you learn that a majority of Armajani's career is based around ... the philosophy of the bridge as a structural element," she says, "but also bridging people and creating a space where people could meet each other in the middle."
The exhibit's signature piece was "Kansas City No. 1, 2000," a painting commissioned by local publishing company Sosland and later gifted to the museum. The work features bridges, buildings and other elements from the cityscape that residents have a chance to see every day.
Dziedzic also reached out to people in local Iranian communities, to make sure they knew an artist with roots in Iran had an impact in their city.
"I wanted to see if there was any interest in people coming and joining us in celebrating what I think was a pretty key exhibition in his career," Dziedzic says.
Dziedzic's work and impact on the museum community has not gone unnoticed.
“Her authentic dedication to artistic excellence, inclusion, and innovation have left an indelible mark in the art world that extends far beyond Kansas City," wrote Mary Kemper Wolf, chair of the museum's board of trustees, in the June announcement.
Throughout her tenure at the Kemper, Dziedzic made a special point of exhibiting artists from a broad range of backgrounds, identities, and perspectives, especially historically-excluded female artists and artists of color. She also worked with colleagues to study the demographics of the museum's permanent collection.
Dziedzic also played a major role in expanding the museum's collection.
Her ideals were reflected in the museum's purchase of the Barbara Chase-Riboud sculpture "Malcolm X number 13" after it was featured in the 2017 exhibit "Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today."
"It was able to really amplify all of those discussions around the collection that we were trying to have," Dziedzic says. "We have made incredible strides in collecting more work by women and artists of color, but we also learned that there's more to do."
Board of trustees Vice Chair Bill Gautreaux notes Dziedzic's time at the Kemper has spanned a third of the museum's 29 years as an institution.
“Her efforts brought trajectory to our exhibitions, amplified the careers of many emerging and mid-career artists, and complemented the permanent collection by selecting acquisitions of many artists that we have exhibited," Gautreaux wrote in June.
In 2016, Dziedzic established The Atrium Project, an annual series of commissioned projects that presents the work of emerging and mid-career Latino artists.
In the museum's eighth commission, Peruvian American artist Sarah Zapata used traditional handicrafts of hand-weaving, latch-hooked shag, and sewing, combined with sculptural and textile techniques, to create a site-specific installation that explores local lesbian histories. "So the roots be known" is on view in the museum's atrium through July 2024.
Dziedzic says commissions like these are a way to challenge emerging artists to try something new.
“What's significant to me is not necessarily just bigger names of international artists, but where the artist is in their career and how the Kemper Museum can help nudge them up to the next level,” she says.
The Kemper's partnership with the National Museum of Women in the Arts was another chance for Dziedzic to amplify the voices of local artists. Drawing from within a 250-mile radius of Kansas City, she helped grow the number of artists applying to national museum's "Women to Watch" exhibition series, and deepened connections to local arts communities.
"It was just such a good opportunity, whether the artist made it into the exhibition or not, because now I know who you are and I'm a little bit more in-tune to what you're working on," Dziedzic says.
This year, local Indigenous artist Mona Cliff was selected for the national exhibition after being featured at the Kemper. Dziedzic notes that a regional artist has been selected for each of the triennial exhibitions in Washington.
"It's a big deal for Kansas City to have an artist who's living and working here be represented on a national stage," she says.
Dziedzic joined the museum's curatorial staff in 2013. She plans to relocate to the Northeast and pursue an independent curatorial practice. Her final day at Kemper will be Dec. 31.
The museum announced in June that its search for a new lead curator will begin with the hiring of Kemper Museum's next executive director, which it anticipated by the end of 2023.