Montclair Art Museum announced March 26 that Ira Wagner has been appointed the museum’s executive director. He serves as the 10th director since the museum’s founding in 1914.

Ira Wagner will be the interim director at MAM. COURTESY MONTCLAIR ART MUSEUM

Upon longtime director Lora Urbanelli’s retirement last spring, Wagner stepped in as interim director pending the arrival of a successor. 

“I am delighted that my good friend and long-time partner has accepted this challenge. The board and I are excited about the museum’s future and have never been more confident in MAM’s leadership, financial position, and programmatic relevance to Northern New Jersey,” museum president Frank Walter said.

While most public venues in New York and New Jersey remained closed, MAM reopened with COVID-safe, hybrid operations starting in September 2020. 

“When the pandemic forced the museum to shutter operations in March 2020 and suspend its director search, Wagner, along with staff and trustees, guided the museum through unprecedented challenges. MAM successfully preserved its human, physical and financial resources; pivoted the museum to virtual operations; and launched both digital and programmatic transformations of curatorial, education and visitor services,” the museum said in a news release .

The museum’s exhibitions have since rebounded to pre-pandemic levels of attendance, according to the release.

Walter said Wagner is “uniquely competent” and an “ideal leader” for the museum.

“Ira combines hands-on experience as a Wall Street banker, non-profit financial manager, university-level arts educator, practicing artist and published photographer,” Walter said.

Waganer and his wife Denise raised their family in Montclair and for more 30 years have been active supporters of the region’s cultural, education and civic organizations. He served as MAM Board trustee for 15 years and as MAM’s treasurer and director of strategic initiatives.

Wagner said he is honored to step into the leadership role for the Montclair Art Museum, a cultural mainstay of the community for over 100 years.

 “As interim director, I have seen over the last year the results of the hard work of an incredibly dedicated, talented and creative team of staff, board, instructors and volunteers that has enabled the museum to innovate, to remain connected with, and even grow our audience. With their support, I look forward to building on the steps we’ve taken to continue to inspire our community with creative exhibitions and programming and to serve as a place where the arts play a leading role in fighting the injustices in our society,” Wagner said.

MAM contains a renowned collection of American and Native American art that highlights art-making in the United States over the last 300 years. The Vance Wall Art Education Center encompasses the Museum’s educational efforts, including award-winning Yard School of Art studio classes, lectures and talks, family events, tours, and the mobile MAM Art Truck. 

Approved in late 2019, the museum also has plans to expand outdoors to create an art plaza on the south side of the building to serve as an outdoor gathering and museum events space. The highlight of the space will be a 48-foot wide, 10-foot high waterfall wall.

A new reflecting pond is planned for the grassy area in front of the museum on South Mountain Avenue. Plans also include removing the Hermon Atkins MacNeil bronze sculpture “The Sun Vow” — which was donated by founder William T. Evans and has stood outside the museum’s entrance since 1914 — and placing a new, yet-to-be-commissioned piece of art in the pond. The tree located in the front, reportedly planted by Howard Van Vleck in 1957, will also be removed.