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Posted on Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 5:42 a.m.

Ann Arbor Art Center president Marsha Chamberlin to retire

By Jennifer Eberbach


Marsha Chamberlin

Ryan J. Stanton | file photo

After three decades as president and CEO of the Ann Arbor Art Center, Marsha Chamberlin is retiring. The nationwide search for a new leader has begun, and applications will be accepted for the next two months.

Chamberlin is not sure when her very last day will be; however, she notified the board of directors that she wants to retire by the end of 2012.

Before she leaves, she will help the board and staff come up with a plan to help her successor transition into the job. Chamberlin’s goal is to have a 12- to 18-month plan in place when she leaves.

“What you want to do is create an environment where that person can come in, get a handle on things, sink into the plans that are already in place, and then have a chance to alter them however they see fit,” Chamberlin says.

“We have a calendar of all of our dates for when classes begin and when exhibits and special events are going to be held. It goes all the way through the end of 2013,” she explains.

This is mostly to make it easy on the new director. “They aren’t going to have to come in and immediately invent something. Their challenge is to get to know the team and learn how to work with them, get to know the organizational culture, and then they will undoubtedly bring their own ideas to the table,” she says.

Chamberlin also hopes to leave some extra money behind for the new hire. “If I can leave the Art Center with a nice reserve fund, that would be lovely. We don’t know what form it will take, but there are people already working on a fundraising effort,” she explains.

Chamberlin began leading the organization in 1979, when it was the Ann Arbor Art Association. She watched the organization grow into the full-fledged art anchor that it is today. Despite the “roller-coaster” that most arts organizations have to ride during tough economic times, the outgoing president is happy to report that the Art Center “is in the black with tons of stability, and we are still growing.”

Before coming to the Ann Arbor Art Association, Chamberlin had prior experience with nonprofits. She had doubled enrollment at the Lamaze Association, worked at a drug treatment program in San Francisco, and run a freshman orientation camp as an undergraduate.

She had also gotten into making ceramics. As volunteers, Chamberlin and another potter developed a pottery program for the Art Association, “Palm Sunday Pottery Sale,” which “brought potters from all over the city, and it was kind of like an art fair but in a building,” she explains.

When the job became available, it took her a month to decide whether or not to apply. She is sure glad she did.

“When I started, the board wanted to create a community-wide organization. They wanted the Art Association to be very open and inviting to the public. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do all of these years,” she says.

Looking back on some of her accomplishments, she says, “ the thing that is the real success of this organization is our broad-based community involvement. For example, in 1984, we created the first outreach program by a cultural organization in the community, ‘Art Start.’ No one else was going out and doing programs in community centers and stuff like that. We were going to 70 off-sites each year. And at the same time, our on-site programs were growing.”

It's unlikely that Chamberlin will disappear from public life and art in Ann Arbor. After her retirement, she will still serve on the Public Art Commission, of which she is the current chairperson. “The Public Art Commission is becoming more and more interesting, and more active. We’ve got a really strong group of commissioners now and a master plan is underway. I really like issues of downtown development, mostly from a design perspective,” she says.

Other than that, she is looking forward to freeing up her schedule “to see what strikes my fancy,” she says. “I love to travel and go to new places. My husband and I have talked about going down to the Mississippi Delta to hear blues music or going to Santa Fe. The first thing I hope to do is go to Paris.”

She is looking forward to the change, but there is a down side too. “In this change, there will be connections with people that I no longer make. It’s just amazing to me to encounter people on almost a daily basis who are tied to the Art Center in some way. That kind of interaction with people who share an interest won’t be there, which I will really miss,” Chamberlin concludes.



Sat, Apr 28, 2012 : 4:46 p.m.


Dog Guy

Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 9:26 p.m.

Marsha Chamberlin is a chairperson of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission against whom nothing may be said.


Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 12:28 p.m.

Even though I have not liked the way the art commission spends it money. I think we have better use for the 1.6 mil. I would like to say thanks for all your hard work trying to make the city better really. I just hope the next one understands how the city feels about it priority of money. Thanks and good luck.

Kate Jones

Thu, May 3, 2012 : 3:18 p.m.

Just to clarify, Marsha Chamberlin is retiring from the Ann Arbor Art Center, which is not the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission, they are two different organizations, not related.

Bertha Venation

Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 3:29 p.m.

Mort. I could not have said it better myself. I hope the next Chair listens to the community, even if Mr. Mayor and City Council won't.

Scott Rosencrans

Fri, Apr 27, 2012 : 11:50 a.m.

Congratulations on a wonderful career, Marsha. You have much to be proud of and Ann Arbor is a better place for it.