Gilcrease Museum Announces New Director

New executive director brings extensive background in art, culture and stewardship

TULSA, Oklahoma – The University of Tulsa is pleased to announce that Brian Lee Whisenhunt has been selected as the next executive director for Gilcrease Museum and will begin his duties on April 15.

Brian Lee Whisenhunt new Gilcrease Director

Most recently, Whisenhunt served as executive director of The Rockwell Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, located in Corning, New York, for seven years. There, he built upon the museum’s stellar reputation as a leader in arts and museum education, grew the art collection by 25% with artists reflecting the diversity of the American experience, increased attendance and oversaw plans for the museum’s 50th anniversary celebration and reaccreditation.

During his tenure with Rockwell, Whisenhunt served on the Board of Directors of the Museum Association of New York, including a term as president of the board, and is a peer reviewer for the American Alliance of Museums Accreditation Commission. He was a member of the City of Corning Public Art Committee and served as grant reviewer for the New York State Council on the Arts.

“I am thrilled to work with the Gilcrease team on completing the construction and reinstallation of the permanent collection and special exhibitions. The opening of this amazing new museum facility will bring national notoriety and acclaim to one of the world’s most significant collections of American art,” said Whisenhunt, a Tulsa native.

The Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art, known as Gilcrease Museum, is owned by the City of Tulsa and managed by The University of Tulsa. The museum houses a comprehensive collection with more than 350,000 items representing the art, culture and history of the Americas, including the largest public holdings of art of the American West.

“Gilcrease staff and University of Tulsa faculty are eager to welcome Brian to the museum and the campus ecosystem,” said TU President Brad R. Carson. “Our 15-year partnership with the city is unique. It has successfully increased visibility for this incredible collection of art and history while providing scholars access to a wealth of archeological items and archival materials.”

Adjacent to the museum, the university’s Helmerich Center for American Research houses the Gilcrease Library and Archive. The collection is composed of manuscripts, photographs, maps, rare books, print portfolios and broadsides related to the history of the North American continent from the 15th through 20th centuries. Themed gardens are developed on 23 of the museum’s 460 acres.

The university collaborated closely with city on this important leadership decision. Gilcrease serves as a pillar of Tulsa’s tourism and a beacon of community outreach. When completed, the new museum, which is currently under construction, will offer an exceptional experience for visitors.

“Just as Gilcrease is vital to our city and our citizens, a visionary executive director is vital to the life of the museum. We are pleased Brian is returning to Tulsa to share his extensive knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm as we prepare to write the next chapter for Gilcrease and its unrivaled collection,” said Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum.

Whisenhunt received his master’s degree in art history from the University of Oklahoma and wrote his thesis on earthworks, large-scale sculpture in the landscape from the early 1970s. In addition to his degrees in art history, Whisenhunt also attended the prestigious Museum Leadership Institute and has a certificate in nonprofit executive leadership from the University of Texas of the Permian Basin.

He began his professional career at the Wichita (Kansas) Art Museum before moving on to the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin and then the Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana. In 2011, Whisenhunt was named executive director of the Museum of the Southwest, a 5-acre multidisciplinary campus that includes the Turner Memorial Art Museum, Durham Children’s Museum, Blakemore Planetarium and a public sculpture collection. In 2016, the institution celebrated its 50th anniversary with a $5.4 million renovation of the art museum and historic Turner mansion.

“The experiences I had at Gilcrease as a young person are key not just to who I am as a museum professional, but also as a person. For me, they inspired a life in museums. So, I am excited to bring those experiences and the perspectives I have gleaned from almost 30 years of professional museum work back to Tulsa during this pivotal time in the museum’s history,” Whisenhunt said. “I am ecstatic to return to my hometown as the next executive director of Gilcrease and lead the museum as it enters a new, expansive chapter of inspired service, meaningful collaboration and community engagement.”