After 14 years of service to the University of Montana, Barbara Koostra will leave her role as director of the Montana Museum of Art & Culture in December.

Rafael Chacon
Rafael Chacon

“Barbara Koostra brought considerable attention and programming to the MMAC,” UM Provost Jon Harbor said. “We thank Barbara for her service to UM, Missoula, the state and the region and wish her the best in her future endeavors.”

Oversight of MMAC shifted from the Office of the Provost to the College of Visual and Performing Arts earlier this year, and the change in leadership is part of the college’s staffing plan. Rafael Chacón, UM professor of art history and criticism, will direct the museum beginning January 2019, and Jeremy Canwell, MMAC curator of art and exhibitions coordinator, will remain on staff.

Chacón founded the Gilbert Millikan Art Resource Center in the School of Art in 1996 and has been active in museum studies, including curating exhibitions at the Smart Museum at the University of Chicago, the Eric Dean Gallery at Wabash College and MMAC, as well as serving as Hispanic Studies coordinator in museum education at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Koostra spent 17 years performing at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, with the New York City Opera National Company, at Lincoln Center and at Carnegie Hall. After earning her MBA from UM, she became director of the Missoula Cultural Council (now Arts Missoula), communications director at the Montana Arts Council, communications specialist at the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C., and assistant director at the Missoula Art Museum before being named MMAC director.

Among the many accomplishments of her UM tenure, Koostra:

  • Raised over $1.5 million in operating, building and project funds and doubled the value of the Permanent Collection to over $20 million.
  • Was named the Suzanne and Bruce Crocker Distinguished Director via the first such gift to exist in the Montana University System history for a non-faculty position.
  • Presented more than 60 exhibitions, including one about Pulitzer Prize photographs, which broke all attendance records, and a Shakespeare Folio from the Folger Library in Washington D.C.
  • Secured hundreds of important artworks for the MMAC Permanent Collection, including the pieces among the William A. Clark Collection from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Ben Steele POW Collection.

“Landing the Clark Collection was an historic first and a monumental achievement,” Harbor said. “UM’s Permanent Collection – artistically the richest in the state – has doubled in value under her superb leadership.”

Koostra said she became committed to the care of the Permanent Collection after her first glimpse.

“Because of its content, the collection should be recognized as one of the most significant assets in Montana’s cultural development, past and present,” she said. “I am grateful to the many, many donors, members, visitors, students, staff, advisers and more who made MMAC such a success. I especially thank Suzanne and Bruce Crocker for their undying support of the museum.

“UM has been given the honor and responsibility for the Permanent Collection’s care and exhibition,” she said. “Its international importance and the stature of the artists whose work is represented needs serious ongoing consideration. While I leave the institution with stable financials on the private side, thoughtful attention and investment is essential to the best future of this magnificent collection.”