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She May Be Leaving, But She's Still Winning Awards

by Jerome Weeks 5 May 2011 4:12 PM

Bonnie Pitman, the director of the Dallas Museum of Art who’s stepping down this month for reasons of health, will also be getting a national distinguished service honor — in recognition of her ‘innovation and creativity.’


Bonnie Pitman announced last month that she’ll be stepping down this month as director of the Dallas Museum of Art because of health reasons. But later this month, she’ll also be receiving an award — one of the bigger honors in the museum world.

The American Association of Museums will present Pitman with its Distinguished Service Award May 25 at its annual meeting and expo in Houston. The award is meant to honor a person who’s demonstrated “sustained excellence and unusual service” for 20 years or more. Specifically, Pitman is described as “the personification of innovation and creativity” who has “changed the cultural life of Dallas” — through the DMA’s many acquisitions and such audience enhancements as the monthly Late Nights, the Center for Creative Connections and the innovations in education and interpretation offered in her new book, Ignite the Power of Art: Advancing Visitor Engagement in Museums.

The full release:


Museum Director, Educator, Author, Innovator to be Honored at AAM Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo™ in Houston May 25

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 6, 2011) ─ The Board of Directors of the American Association of Museums today announced that Bonnie Pitman, the Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art and for nearly 40 years the personification of innovation and creativity in the museum field, is the recipient of its Award for Distinguished Service to Museums for 2011.

Pitman will receive her award at the AAM Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo™ in Houston during the general session on Wednesday, May 25 at 10:30 a.m.

The AAM Award for Distinguished Service to Museums recognizes sustained excellence and unusual service by an individual with at least 20 years of experience in the field. Criteria include the individual’s cumulative contribution to his/her institution, the museum profession and the larger museum community. This award is not necessarily given annually.

“Few individuals in the last half century have made such an imprint on museums in America as has Bonnie Pitman,” said AAM Board Chairman Douglas Myers. “Through her selfless service, her scholarship, her innovative thinking, her mentoring and overall leadership, Bonnie has set a standard the rest of us in the museum world can only strive to achieve.”

Pitman has changed the cultural life of Dallas. During her tenure in Dallas, more than 3,500 works have been given to the Museum as gifts or by bequest, including outstanding works of African art, ancient American art, South Asian art, Indonesian tribal arts and American 19th- and 20th-century painting and decorative arts, as well as significant growth in the European painting and decorative arts collection including works by French masters Paul Signac, Edouard Vuillard, and Gustave Caillebotte and German expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. The DMA’s contemporary collection has also seen dramatic growth, thanks to the 2005 collection bequest by local collectors and major new acquisitions by artists including David Altmejd, Olafur Eliasson, Jim Hodges, Bruce Nauman, Charles Ray and Yayoi Kusama.

In addition, Pitman has spearheaded initiatives that advance the DMA’s mission to enhance visitor experiences with art.  These include monthly Late Nights, when the museum is open until midnight, and a strong focus on new ways to encounter the collections, including innovative uses of technology in the galleries and on the website and collaborations with arts and educational organizations. Her work has culminated in the 2008 opening of the Center for Creative Connections, an interactive and innovative learning environment that provides a new model for art education and interpretation of the collections. The Center focuses on the creative processes of the artist as well as on those of the visitors engaging with works of art. The Center’s programming is based on an original visitor research project headed by Pitman that examined in depth the ways in which visitors prefer to experience art, the results of which have fundamentally changed the Museum’s programming, operations, and relationships with its constituencies.

Her most recent publication is Ignite the Power of Art: Advancing Visitor Engagement in Museums, based on her progressive approach at the DMA and the resulting visitor experiences with works of art.

In addition to leading the DMA since 2008, after eight years as its deputy director, Pitman also led the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, California. During her career she has served in curatorial, educational and administrative roles at the University of California’s Berkeley Art Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, the New Orleans Museum of Art and Winnipeg Art Gallery. Long a leading thinker in the field, Pitman has authored or co-authored four books, including the landmark Excellence and Equity: Education and the Public Dimension of Museums, a signature work that altered the perceived role of museums in society and which is still regarded as the landmark policy report for all types of museums 20 years after it was first published.

“Just like the museums that have been her calling, Bonnie Pitman is all about service,” said AAM president Ford W. Bell. “That spirit of service starts with the communities her museums have touched, and extends all the way to the broader museum profession. Certainly Bonnie’s contributions to AAM have been monumental, and integral to the organization’s development and success.”

Pitman has served on the AAM Board of Directors a total of 12 years, beginning a series of three-year terms in 1976. Pitman also served as Vice President of the AAM Executive Committee three times, and her most recent three-year Board term ended in April 2010. She was also a member of the AAM Accreditation Commission from 1985 to 1997, serving as commission chair from 1991 to 1997. From 1989 through 1994, Pitman also chaired the AAM National Task Force on Museum Education, from whence stemmed Excellence and Equity.

Among her other affiliations, Pitman is a member of the Association of American Art Museum Directors and served on the National Advisory Committee for the Getty Center for Education in the Arts.

Pitman has worked as a consultant to more than 200 organizations and museums, such as the Pew Charitable Trust’s Program for Art Museums and Communities; the National Endowment for the Arts; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Institute of Museum and Library Services; the National Science Foundation; Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York; the Museum of African Art, New York; WNET-TV, New York; the Denver Art Museum; the Bishop Museum, Honolulu; the Museum Association of Great Britain; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

About AAM

The American Association of Museums has been bringing museums together since 1906, helping to develop standards and best practices, gathering and sharing= knowledge, and providing advocacy on issues of concern to the entire museum community. With more than 18,000 individual, 3,000 institutional and 300 corporate members, AAM is dedicated to ensuring that museums remain a vital part of the American landscape, connecting people with the greatest achievements of the human experience, past, present and future. For more information, visit