William J. Chiego: 20 Years as Director
[Excerpt from the Fall 2011 McNay Members' Magazine Impressions]
2011 marks a milestone in the McNay Art Museum's history as we celebrate William J. Chiego's 20th year as director. When the Chiego family moved to San Antonio from Ohio, where he served as director of the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College (1986-1991), Chiego faced the challenge of bringing the McNay into the 21st century.
From his first days as director, Dr. Chiego-or Bill as many call him-worked determinedly to establish goals with the Board of Trustees and achieve the highest museum standards important for the McNay's growth and stability. Creating key departments and positions became early priorities. His first years saw the hiring of a collections manager, curator of education, curator of prints and drawings, head librarian, and security manager, as well as construction of Leeper Auditorium and an increase in programs for a range of audiences. By the end of Chiego's first decade, a curator of art after 1945, manager of buildings and grounds, along with an expanded development team had joined the roster. At this 20th year, the museum's full-time staff has grown from fewer than 30 in 1991 to nearly 90. Expanding and caring for the collection persist as duties that William J. Chiego takes on with zealous enthusiasm. During these 20 years, the museum's collection more than doubled from 9,000 to nearly 19,000 works of art, with emphasis on modern sculpture, prints and drawings (especially Mexican prints), theatre arts, and contemporary works in various media. Bringing in conservators to assess the condition of works, along with a total renovation of the museum's dated environmental systems, he emphasizes preservation of the art through a comprehensive conservation program with prioritized treatment of individual objects.
Chiego also pursues an ambitious schedule of exhibitions organized by both McNay staff and other museums. Exhibitions ranging from shows of major artists like Auguste Rodin, Edward Hopper, Joel Shapiro, and Richard Stankiewicz, to surveys of important art movements such as Constructivist theatre design, modern Mexican printmaking, Pop art, and Pre-Raphaelite art have come to the McNay under his directorship. Among the notable exhibitions that William J. Chiego organized for the McNay was the exceptionally successful O'Keeffe and Texas (1998).
In 1996, he initiated a series of South Texas artists' retrospectives with support from collectors Barbara and Harold J. Wood. Featuring Carl Rice Embrey, César Martínez, Reginald Rowe, Kent Rush, and Kathy Vargas, the retrospectives included three organized by Chiego, with catalogues authored by him. Additional McNay publications since 1991 highlight the history of the museum and its areas of collection strength, including Modern Art at The McNay (2001); An Eye for the Stage: The Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts at the McNay Art Museum (2004); From Goya to Johns: Fifty Master Prints at the McNay Art Museum (2004); as well as two new publications, McNay Art Museum: An Introduction (2010) and the soon-to-appear book Jane & Arthur Stieren Center for Exhibitions, McNay Art Museum.
In 1997 Chiego initiated a strategic site and space plan, as it became clear that an impressive exhibition schedule and a growing collection could not coexist without additional space. The McNay trustees, working with the director, reached a consensus to restore and renovate the former McNay residence and environmental systems, build an addition for exhibitions, and increase the endowment to support an expanded museum. The plan culminated with the completion of an over $50 million capital campaign and the 2008 opening of the Jane & Arthur Stieren Center for Exhibitions, nearly doubling the size of the museum. Allowing for year-round installation of significant collection works in the former residence and surrounding additions, the Stieren Center is now the locus for major exhibitions of a greater variety and size, including George Rickey Kinetic Sculpture: A Retrospective; Reclaimed: Paintings from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker; and George Nelson: Architect, Writer, Designer, Teacher.
Along the way, Chiego instituted annual fundraising events, established an annual fund, and, working with the McNay's board, restructured and invigorated the membership program, which has grown from nearly 1,600 in 1991 to 4,300 today.