Jessica Kay Ruhle, director of education at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in North Carolina, will be the new executive director of the Yellowstone Art Museum.
YAM’s search committee selected Ruhle (pronounced ruh-lee) based on his innovation and leadership skills, the museum said in a press release Monday. Ruhle takes up his new role in early 2022 following the departure of former executive director Bryan Knicely in August. Ruhle will be at Billings starting Jan. 26.
Ruhle said she sees herself as a forward-thinking leader, “always working on new and innovative partnerships that can amplify the role of museums.”
“I am truly thrilled to take on this role as a lifelong educator,” Ruhle said in the press release. “Having been an educator, the focus is on building relationships and engaging the public, inviting people into the museum space.”
The downtown Billings museum has been struggling since the COVID pandemic strained its revenue. With the COVID-related layoffs, followed by multiple resignations and retirements, at least 40% of YAM staff left in less than a year. Knicely had been at the museum since 2018.
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Matt Stroud, chair of the committee seeking a new executive director, said Ruhle will bring strong vision and leadership to YAM.
“Jessica is a true professional who we believe has the experience, background and leadership skills to lead YAM into the future,” Stroud said. “We also think Jessica has a unique way of listening, observing and leading that will bring everyone together.”
Ruhle said she applied for the job because of YAM’s focus on contemporary art, which is a passion of hers. She was also impressed with the programs in place and the community engagement she saw when she visited Billings in November and met with the board, staff and some cultural leaders. Two aspects of the art museum that have impressed her the most are the Visible Vault and the YAM’s permanent collection.
“It’s so rare to make backstage spaces accessible the way YAM did,” Ruhle said. “It’s not just storage, but I think it’s absolutely one of the best features of the museum.”
Search committee member Larry Martin, who has long been associated with the YAM as a board member, said Ruhle will bring energy, organizational skills and ideas to the museum.
“Most important was his demonstrated ability to engage meaningfully with others, including board members, museum staff and community members,” Martin said.
Ruhle said she would like to talk with staff, including acting curator and registrar Lisa Ranallo, about ways to bring more people to the Visible Vault. The possibilities are exciting, she says.
“I was also thinking of the artist residency as a key element of the YAM. This gives artists time and space to engage with visitors.
Two programs she is most proud to have started at the Nasher Museum are Reflections, a program for people with dementia and their care partners, and Nasher Teens, an interdisciplinary program for teenagers in Durham Region.
Ruhle grew up in Florida and has worked in North Carolina since 2005. She loves exploring new places and last year took a long trip to visit Utah’s national parks. Ruhle can’t wait to embrace Montana on the outside with her rescue dog Wilkes Marie, named after a favorite North Carolina county.
“I’m excited about Montana and the arts community there. I look forward to reconnecting with friends and colleagues who are Montana-based artists and arts professionals, as well as building relationships with other artists throughout the state. In addition, I love going out and I can’t wait to discover the beauty of the region.