GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Art Museum’s Board of Trustees has started a national search for the next executive and president of the museum after Dana Friis-Hansen announced he will officially step down on Jan. 1, 2023.

Friis-Hansen has been leading the organization since July 2011 and plans to until next year to ensure a smooth transition to the next museum leader.

“It was a really hard decision to make. I think that running a cultural organization is a fascinating and fun, usually, and challenging job and that I feel that it’s a great way to make the world a better place. However, after now, over 20 years of doing this, in Austin first and now [Grand Rapids], I want to pivot back to my passion for working with artists, writing with cultural and global exchanges,” Friis-Hansen said.

When Friis-Hansen started the job a decade ago, the museum was three years into its new and current space at Monroe Center. Under his leadership, GRAM has worked towards becoming more sustainable both environmentally and financially. They upgraded their HVAC system and joined Consumer Energy’s Zero Net Energy Program. He guided them through a 2015 strategic plan focused on developing and engaging new audiences.

Since 2016, 69% of artwork purchased by the museum was art done by women and artists of color. Participation in school tours and museum workshops rose by 45% under his guidance.

“Dana has led the Grand Rapids Art Museum through an important and rewarding decade of change. His passion for community collaboration, steady financial stewardship, and investment in learning and creativity
programs have enabled us to build on the many successes of the Museum and has set the stage for a bright
and exciting future at GRAM,” Board President Erin Gravelyn said.

Friis-Hansen came to Grand Rapids after serving as the executive director at the Austin Museum of Art and said that what drew him to Grand Rapids is what he learned from community leaders and saw first hand — that Grand Rapids is a serious art town with open-minded, curious people with pride in their cultural connections.

“It’s hard to say sort of what will be the lasting changes, I think that right now we’ve got a great staff, we have a knowledgeable and committed board, we’ve got a good financial footing. I feel like we’ve made some really great strides over the decade,” Friis-Hansen said about how he’ll have left Grand Rapids different than when he arrived. “We are about to launch a strategic plan for the next five years, so we’ll be one year into that. So I think I’ll be able to look back and hopefully, it will be the people and the art and the design and connectivity because our mission is connecting people through art, creativity, and design.”

“I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to do in growing audiences, in diversifying the types of art that we’re showing,” Friis-Hansen added. “We’re also aggressively addressing the variety of artworks that we show and also that we collect. So that’s very important.”

Friis-Hansen plans to go back to his work as an independent art curator, writer and researcher with a focus on global exchanges. He also plans to lead cultural tours with his husband, Mark Holzbach and stay connected with the GRAM and West Michigan community.

*Correction: The video states “Friis-Hansen has led several capital campaigns.” However, it should state he has led several “capital improvements.”