Women Leaders: Stephanie Stebich, Director, Smithsonian American Art Museum



Our spring art preview featured 20 women cultural leaders in Washington, D.C. We wanted to amplify their voices in our online newsletters, spotlighting each of them individually. Our Monday, May 9 newsletter features Stephanie Stebich, director of Margaret and Terry Stent of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

THE GEORGETOWNER: DC should have a kind of “spring awakening” after two long years of Covid. What are you most looking forward to for your institution this season?

STEPHANIE STEBICH: I’m counting down the days until the opening of the Renwick Gallery’s 50th anniversary exhibition on May 13. This is an opportunity to share what we’ve collected: the best of American makers, who are helping to define our times and inspire our future, as the title promises: “This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World”.

GEORGETOWNER: What led you to become a leader in your organization? Tell us a bit about your professional background and your inspirations along the way?

SS: I was fortunate to be invited to work at the Smithsonian, an offer I accepted given the scope, relevance and impact of our national museums. I mark my fifth year at SAAM in April, and over these years I have experienced some up and down times, from record attendance and phenomenal support to a government shutdown and the pandemic state of emergency from which we are now emerging with renewed energy for the mission of the museum. Remarkably, our dedicated staff faced the times we faced with resilience and grace to keep the digital doors open, even when we were temporarily closed. We learned a lot about our audiences and our abilities to deliver on our commitment to explore American art with global connections, especially at a time of renewed questions about our shared American identity.

GEORGETOWNER: What are the biggest challenges for your organization?

SS: Balancing how to be a national museum that is welcoming and representative of all, while maintaining our strong ties with our local audiences. In particular, our last audience survey confirmed that 51% of our visitors are regulars!

GEORGETOWNER: How do you feel about being among the first women to lead an arts institution?

SS: I follow in the footsteps of my predecessor Betsy Broun, who was one of the Smithsonian’s longest-serving directors and, for a time, the institution’s only female director. There are now more female directors leading cultural institutions in the DC area than ever before!

GEORGETOWNER: What are you most proud of having accomplished in your position?

SS: It’s hard to choose just one thing. So I’ll highlight a recent project where we made our American collections and stories more relevant and engaging. We recently released a series of wonderful digital comics called “Drawn to Art: Ten Tales of Inspiring Women Artists” which are short shots into the lives of artists, each drawn by a student-illustrator through a partnership with the Ringling College of Art and Design. I also prioritize educating the next generation of scholars in the field of American art and culture, and I champion our virtual educational programs such as our real-time video conferencing for K-12 grades in whole world. This is how we bring American art to American children abroad.

KeywordsArts EducationBetsy BrounMargaret and Terry StentGalerie RenwickRingling College of Art and DesignSmithsonian American Museum of ArtStephanie Strebich”Drawn to Art: Ten Tales of Inspiring Women Artists””This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World”

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