By Jason B. Jones, Executive Director, Western Museums Association
“Art was a ray of sunshine in my museum career. He was one of the first people to greet me at WMA conferences, to share his experience and advice, as well as share insight of his adventures in Qatar (where I would later work for several years.) He was a friend and mentor to so many people. Thank you Art for inspiring all of us.” -Heather Ferrell (former WMA Board Member), Curator and Director of Exhibitions, Burlington City Arts
Art Wolf’s warm smile, passion for improving museums, and willingness to give back to the field were always on display. On February 14, 2021, Art Wolf walked on ahead of us. He touched the lives and careers of many museum professionals through his leadership and his mentoring of an almost countless number of us in the field. With this week’s Museums Advocacy Day, I remember many conversations where he urgently spoke about power and the need to advocate for museums. A few years ago I was lucky enough to visit congressional offices with Art to see him in action. It was inspiring to walk together through the halls of Congress and watch him deftly convey to each elected official how museums strengthen their communities and they could support that work. Now, these are cherished memories to use as a catalyst in my own work. Going forward, I aim to put as much skin in the game as Art Wolf did throughout his career.
“A great tree has fallen” - James Leventhal (former WMA Board Member), Director of Institutional Advancement, Congregation Rodef Sholom
In service to WMA, Art was a Program Committee member, a perennial presenter at our Annual Meetings, and a frequent sponsor—regularly supporting our Indigenous Luncheon. Perhaps most importantly, he was the visionary and funder behind WMA’s Impact Award with his wife Holly Chaffee, who herself was the WMA Treasurer in 1973. The Award recognizes mid-career museum professionals, provides the recipient with $1,500 to further their professional development, and embodies Art’s commitment to the field and to mentoring younger generations of museum leaders. Holly said, “Helping young professionals was very important to him and this award was something he had planned to do for some time. Only his modesty led him to do it in the name of the Volver Trust.” WMA, like many organizations and individuals, is in Art’s debt. It was an honor to work closely with him for several years to develop the Impact Award before it debuted in 2018. We had regular check-ins and our paths frequently crossed at events throughout the year. I’ll miss Art’s warm camaraderie, our shared love of ceramics, and his unwavering commitment to serve the museum field.
As a seemingly tireless leader, Art ran a number of museums in the western U.S. including: Millicent Rogers Museum (Toas, NM), Museum of the Rockies (Bozeman, MT), The High Desert Museum (Bend, OR), and the Museum of Northern Arizona (Flagstaff, AZ). His broad experience in service to the museum profession included a term on the American Alliance of Museums Board of Directors (Vice-Chair, 1994-96) and the Board of ICOM-US (1980-82). He also served on the AAM Accreditation Commission from 1997-2003 and a term as Vice-President of the Association of Science Museum Directors. In 2004, he created WOLF Consulting based on his years of experience and service as a respected and trusted museum leader.
“The hundreds of condolences and memories on his Facebook page are a powerful testament to the many people Art touched in his lifetime.” Cynthia Graves, Director, Guest Curator Traveling Exhibitions
In Art’s memory, I put this charge to the museum field: be the change museums need. This past year has highlighted the many ways our industry needs to evolve and we have much work to do. Art spent his career working for a better future for museums. If we’re ever going to get there, it’ll take all of us. Let’s do it together.