Arts and Culture

The director of the Speed Art Museum will leave early next year.

Director Stephen Reily will end his tenure with the museum in Spring 2021 after a successor “has been identified and successfully onboarded with the organization,” according to a  press release sent out Wednesday.

Reily told WFPL he has achieved a number of “milestones” he had set for himself as director, and informed the board earlier this year he intended to step down at the end of March 2021.

They had initially planned to make an announcement in May, he said. But then the “world got turned upside down” as the coronavirus pandemic shut down all of the city’s cultural institutions to in-person experiences. 

“I’ve been guided by the idea that if I was successful in building the strongest institution I could, that was going to help the Speed attract the best possible director to succeed me,” he said, explaining that the museum wanted to focus largely on safely reopening before going public with news of his departure. “I think that kind of principle applies in whatever crazy situation that world finds itself in.”   

The Speed reopened in early July with its blockbuster Andy Warhol exhibition.

The museum is launching a national search for the next director, led by the museum’s board of trustees chair-elect, Roger Cude. The seven-member search committee will also work with a national firm for the search.  

Reily came on board at the museum in 2017, initially as interim director. The release credits him with increasing giving to the museum by 50% over the course of three years, a “record-breaking $4.8 million in the current fiscal year.” During his time, the museum also launched “After Hours,” a monthly arts gathering that moved online during COVID-related shutdowns. 

Last month, the Speed published a Race Equity Report, which included goals to make the organization more inclusive, diverse and equitable. There had also been recent calls for changes at the museum as part of a larger effort to make the Louisville arts scene more equitable

The Speed will work with Marian R. Vasser, director of diversity education and inclusive excellence at University of Louisville, on anti-racism and implicit bias training, according to Reily. 

“She’s going to work with us specifically on a program of kind of deep listening with our existing Black employees to learn what we need to do better and how we can ensure they’re going to feel fully supported in their ability to to grow and lead at the Speed,” Reily said.

Reily, who is on the search committee, said that they are ”very intentionally focused on diversity” in looking for and recruiting candidates to apply for the director position. 

“And we’re requiring that any search firm we consider have a proven ability not just in attracting diverse pools, but actually successfully placing diverse leaders into leadership positions at American art museums,” he said.

Reily said the search committee also intends to seek input from museum employees on what they’d like to see in the next leader, and are working out a process for that. 

As for what’s next for Reily, he said “frankly I don’t know right now,” but he’ll stay in Louisville. 

“I know I’m going to use what I learned from this experience at the Speed,” he said, making a commitment to “use my privilege and whatever platform I have for good.” 

The Speed announcement comes at what appears to be a transition period for a number of Louisville’s prominent arts and cultural institutions. 

In late August, Fund for the Arts president and CEO Christen Boone announced she would leave the philanthropic nonprofit after this fiscal year concludes on June 30, 2021. And KMAC Museum’s now former executive director, Aldy Milliken, left in June after eight years in the role.

This story has been updated.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.