Alexandra Kennedy, Executive Director of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, to Step Down in 2023
Alexandra Kennedy, executive director of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, announced in a letter to the Museum’s staff and supporters today that she will step down from her post later in 2023. In her nearly 15 years at The Carle, Kennedy dramatically raised the profile of the Museum, which has become a champion for picture book illustration around the world. The board and senior staff, who were told about her plans in November, have already begun the search process to find her replacement. Out of respect and admiration for the Museum, Kennedy plans to stay into the fall to help her successor with the transition.
“We’re all reflecting on what it has meant for us to work with Alix,” said Christopher B. Milne, the Museum’s board chair. “She has been a dynamic leader for the Museum, building trust and respect with everyone she works with. She has a deeply held belief in the power of art—to bring joy, to encourage creativity, to unite people of all ages. That passion and vision has guided all her work at the Museum.”
Kennedy came to The Carle in 2008 from Disney Publishing Worldwide, where she was a vice-president and editorial director in charge of U.S. magazines. She is only the second executive director in the Museum’s 20-year history. H. Nichols B. Clark was the founding director, and continues to be an active committee member, guest curator, and donor at the Museum.
Under Kennedy’s leadership, the Museum created innovative exhibitions and award-winning education programs, grew its collection to more than 9,000 objects, and built a traveling exhibition program that reaches as many as 750,000 museum-goers around the world each year. She assembled a talented team of staff and partners who share her bold vision, and together they’ve had a transformational effect on the Museum. Staffing has increased to 40 people and the annual budget to $4 million. The world-class permanent collection now spans more than 250 artists and a hundred years of illustration. In 2018, The Museum built Bobbie’s Meadow, an accessible park and native plant habitat, in memory of co-founder Barbara (Bobbie) Carle. The outdoor experience offers another dimension for visitors of all ages and abilities to enjoy the Museum.
Many of the Museum’s supporters know Kennedy as a magnanimous host of The Carle Honors, a fundraiser in New York City, which many in the children’s book community consider the event of the year. In its 16 years, the gala has awarded luminaries in the field like Maurice Sendak, Faith Ringgold, Jerry Pinkney, and Lois Ehlert in the Artist category, and dozens more as Bridge, Angel, and Mentor.
Kennedy has led the many efforts the Museum is making to be inclusive and accessible, including the diversification of its collection, free admission programs for qualifying schools and families, a Universal Participation designation, and the completion of an 18-month intensive program with the DC-based Cultural Competency Learning Institute. Partnerships have also been a hallmark of Kennedy’s tenure, including long-standing exhibition collaborations with the New-York Historical Society in New York City, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, PLAY! Museum in Tokyo, and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. She has fostered a 15-year partnership with The Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons University. The Carle offers four graduate degree programs, helping to educate the next generation of children’s book advocates and scholars. Publishing ventures include books created in partnership with Penguin Young Readers, Charlesbridge, The Quarry Books, Beautiful Feet Books, and the four-book What’s Your Favorite? series with Macmillan Children’s Books.
The Museum has received numerous federal and state grants under Kennedy’s direction, including grants to support educational programs in Title One schools from The National Endowment for the Arts (2011 and 2013) and multi-year grants to support collections care from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (2015 and 2017). In 2013, it won a Commonwealth Award from the Massachusetts Cultural Council—the state’s highest award—to honor its educational work. In 2016 and again in 2017, it was a finalist for the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the highest museum award in the nation.
In her letter to staff and supporters, Kennedy talked about her next steps “…it feels to me like the right time to usher in the next phase of my career, with hopes to put to work the many meaningful experiences I’ve had leading both publishing and museum teams. I’d especially like to write, edit, and find new ways to support other leaders in their strategic work. I do not have any specific plans yet—one thing at a time!—but will turn to that as my tenure here winds down. I’m confident the time is right for this change for the Museum, too. Now 20 years old, The Carle is strong and stable, emerging from the long and disruptive pandemic.”
In her letter, Kennedy also looked back on the opportunity she had to work with the late co-founders Eric and Barbara Carle: “As a new director in 2008—new even to museum work—I had the profound opportunity to know and learn from Eric and Bobbie Carle. Over the years, the three of us visited regularly, traveled to museums together, and spent many hours discussing The Carle and their dreams for it. They were so gracious about my hundreds of questions! Their vision and generosity continue to embolden all of us who care about the Museum. I miss them, both professionally and personally, and will always be grateful that I had them in my life.”
Milne said the board has embarked on a national search to find Kennedy’s replacement. “She’s a tough act to follow,” he noted. “But The Carle is a special place with an important mission. The new director will have the exciting opportunity to usher in the next 20 years of its growth and influence.”
About the Museum
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is the international champion for picture books. We collect, preserve, and exhibit original illustrations, encourage guests of all ages to read and create art, and foster an ever-growing audience passionate about children’s literature.
The late Eric and Barbara Carle co-founded the Museum in November 2002. Eric Carle was the renowned author and illustrator of more than 70 books, including the 1969 classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Since opening, the 43,000-square foot facility has served nearly one million visitors. The Carle houses more than 11,000 objects, including 9,000 permanent collection illustrations. The Carle has three art galleries, an art studio, a theater, picture book and scholarly libraries, and educational programs for families, scholars, educators, and school children. Bobbie’s Meadow is an outdoor space that combines art and nature. Educational offerings include professional training for educators around the country and master’s degree programs in children’s literature with Simmons University. The Museum offers digital resources, including art activities, book recommendations, collections, exhibition videos, and workshops for online visitors. Learn more at www.carlemuseum.org and on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram @CarleMuseum.
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