In a surprise announcement, the Atlanta Contemporary on Thursday made public the selection of a new leader, Veronica Kessenich. Formerly the Westside nonprofit's development director, Kessenich replaces Julie Delliquanti, who became executive director just a year ago.
The change becomes effective July 4.
Delliquanti was hired as a change agent at Atlanta Contemporary, whose leadership structure was altered with the departure of Stuart Horodner, its artistic director since 2008 who left last summer to direct the Art Museum of the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
Formerly the leader of High Museum of Art's public programs and community engagement, Delliquanti hired a new curator, Daniel Fuller, from the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art, and worked on a rebranding Atlanta Contemporary as part of an larger effort to make it more welcoming and accessible to Atlantans, particularly ones who had never visited.
As part of that initiative, Atlanta Contemporary announced recently that it would do away with admission fees starting Sept. 1.
Last December, Delliquanti told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "I believe strongly that the Contemporary can thrive — I wouldn’t have considered this position if I didn’t — but it is predicated on our commitment to presenting exhibitions and programming that are consistently relevant, smart, compelling and exciting.
"Art is a language to be learned," she continued. "Audiences have the capacity to understand contemporary art. Unfortunately, it is not a muscle that the public flexes regularly and it is the responsibility of institutions like the Contemporary to provide them with opportunities for fitness. Visiting the Contemporary is not a passive activity; it involves both mental and physical agility and requires that audiences are adventurous and inquisitive."
Thursday's announcement of Kessenich's appointment gave few details about Delliquanti's departure.
“Becoming a free admission institution ... has been complicated and challenging," Tim Schrager, Atlanta Contemporary's board president, said in the announcement, "but with Julie’s leadership we have been able to navigate a myriad of issues related to this significant change in the way we operate Atlanta Contemporary,"
"We thank Julie for what she has accomplished this past year and wish her well in her future endeavors," Schrager added. "With Veronica’s appointment as executive director, we will focus on fund-raising, which is the natural progression that this 'Free' initiative requires. We are very excited about the future and very pleased that Veronica is able and willing to lead Atlanta Contemporary into the future.”
Kessenich said in an email, "I am tremendously thrilled to lead Atlanta Contemporary during this exciting growth period and implement our initiative to become an admission-free institution. Having worked in the arts for over 12 years as a gallerist, educator and non-profit professional, I am emboldened by the future of arts organizations in Atlanta.
"I look forward to championing our peer arts organizations to propel forward momentum by increasing engagement with contemporary arts. ... I’m excited to work with staff and present Atlanta Contemporary to a wider community, thus ensuring we remain a robust and meaningful contemporary art center today, tomorrow and into the future.”