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Museum CEO Gappmayer leaving for new position

FAC Sam Gappmeyer
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Sam Gappmayer, president and CEO of Peoria Riverfront Museum for just under three years, is leaving for a new position in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, effective Oct. 14, the museum announced Thursday.

Gappmayer will become director of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, an institution known for its focus on outsider and visionary art.

Gappmayer, the Peoria museum said, is leaving Peoria after accomplishing what he set out to do, which was “building a high-quality, energetic and community-focused programming schedule while paving the way for a sustainable future for the museum.”

There is no word yet on whether the museum board will name an interim CEO or how the search for Gappmayer’s replacement will be done.

“Sam Gappmayer’s goal has always been to help us make Riverfront Museum a true asset for the community,” said Sid Ruckriegel, museum board chair. “He has achieved that in three ways – most importantly by working with staff to create cross-disciplinary programming that has engaged the public in new and inviting ways. He also opened the museum to the public, making it more of a community gathering place, and he right-sized the institution, paving the way for a sustainable future.”

During Gappmayer’s tenure he has overseen the building of community partnerships and a vibrant slate of museum exhibitions, events and educational programming, which has increased earned revenue and attendance, while reducing operating costs, the museum said.

Ann Schmitt, vice president of museum programs, said that from the start, Gappmayer encouraged staff to engage with other community organizations, which helped develop new collaborations with partners such as the Interactive Media Department at Bradley University, Sculpture Walk Peoria and River City Labs, among others.

“Under Sam’s leadership we’ve been able to expand our programming in exciting ways and imagine new ways to use our facility,” said Schmitt. “Sam supported staff in their efforts to use the Giant Screen Theater and the Dome Planetarium as platforms for showcasing not only our own mission-oriented programming, but also the creative work of other local groups.”

Anne Marie Miller, vice president of development, said community relationships have also allowed the museum to expand its reach and impact across a variety of business sectors, while making the museum a public gathering space. “Sam maintained and developed many relationships with museum donors and community leaders,” Miller said. “He opened the museum to collaborations with other community organizations such as WTVP, Greater Peoria EDC, Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Peoria Downtown Development, Peoria RiverFront Association, Children’s Home Association, Boys & Girls Club and many others.”

Ruckriegel said Gappmayer helped keep the museum’s promise to the public by providing an excellence in programming that reflects the museum’s mission to inspire lifelong learning for all through art, history, science and achievement.

But for Gappmayer, the achievement of putting the museum on the right course came with an unexpected and irresistible opportunity – the chance to direct a favorite museum, Kohler Arts Center, which has been focused on his lifelong passion of outsider/visionary artwork.

“Early in my career I developed an interest in outsider/visionary art – work by self-taught artists that developed outside the more normal contexts of academia, art schools and commercial galleries,” said Gappmayer. “I became aware of the Arts Center early on because of its work with visionary art, and over the years made several trips to learn about their programs and approach.

“Kohler Arts Center has grown into an international center for the study and exhibition of work by these artists over the past forty years and plans are underway to build a new center that will house the collection and create opportunities for exhibitions and scholarship,” he added. “And I’m happy to have a final chance to get back to my first love – fine arts programming that’s focused on outsider art.”

Gappmayer gave high praise to the staff and board at the museum, calling them one of the best groups with whom he has worked. He knows there will be challenges, but is confident in the future.

“Transitions can be hard work. However, there are assets in place at the Riverfront Museum, that will make this process go exceptionally well – including an incredibly capable staff of accomplished professionals,” Gappmayer said. “Riverfront Museum staff has a deep level of commitment to the museum that will ensure the ongoing quality of future programs. Our Riverfront Museum board represents a broad cross section of our community and has a wide range of skills that will contribute to a successful search process. Their approach to this challenge has been thoughtful and well considered in ways that make a good conclusion clear.”

Gappmayer said the museum’s “support groups, our volunteers and our wonderful donors will be huge assets as the museum works through this process that will, I am confident, be a tremendous success. I have truly enjoyed helping to build a robust multidisciplinary program of arts, science and history at Riverfront Museum.”