Deana Haggag, The Contemporary executive director who is credited for the art museum’s revival, will leave her position in March to serve as president and CEO of Chicago-based arts organization United States Artists.
Haggag has served as executive director since 2013, when the museum — previously “The Contemporary Museum” — relaunched after a roughly 18-month hiatus. Haggag, just 26 at the time, was The Contemporary's sole employee.
Since then, the museum’s staff has grown to five employees and its budget has increased from $40,000 to over $500,000, according to a news release.
Under Haggag's tenure, The Contemporary has commissioned four-award-winning large-scale art projects, including “Bubble Over Green” by Victoria Fu and “Ghost Food” by Miriam Simun.
“Deana’s remarkable leadership, passion, dedication and charisma have been instrumental in The Contemporary’s renaissance, and she will be deeply missed by so many of us here in Baltimore — but I also know we will enjoy seeing her ongoing success,” Contemporary board chair Terry Squyres said in a statement. “Under Deana's leadership, The Contemporary has accomplished so much more than we envisioned when she took the helm almost four years ago and now, we are excited to continue to develop all that she helped build."
Opportunities for local artists have also flourished under Haggag's leadership.
The museum has founded several original programs, including speaker series Co-Hosts, which collaborated with artist-run spaces in Baltimore. The museum also invested $117,000 across 23 Baltimore artist projects since 2014, and hosted its inaugural “Artist Retreat” in 2015, a three-day event focused on professional development, networking and community building.
Haggag said March 31 will be her last day, but she is excited to leave behind a legacy.
“It feels amazing,” Haggag told The Baltimore Sun. “I feel very proud of the work that The Contemporary’s done over the past four years. Whoever my successor is has one hell of a team and board and constituency.”
The Contemporary's board of trustees is conducting a search for a new executive director. Lu Zhang, the museum’s deputy director, will act as interim director, with Haggag acting as an adviser as needed, she said.
“The Contemporary will do the kind of accessible art programming and artist services that it’s been doing for the past few years," Haggag said. "I think that work is always important, but it may be particularly more important now than it has ever been to stay proactive in supporting arts and culture."
At United States Artists, Haggag said she will be working on initiatives similar to those at The Contemporary, but on a national level.
"I'm hoping ... [working with United States Artists] will really be about the work of continuing to bring the general public closer to contemporary artists living in this country and sort of really contextualizing the importance of contemporary American artist today,” she said.
She's also looking forward to translating her experiences to working in Chicago.
The city "feels in many ways that it’s similar to Baltimore. It’s facing the same kind of socioeconomic, social justice work that we face on a daily basis," she said.
In the meantime, Haggag said she’ll be focusing on The Contemporary’s latest project — “The Ground” by Michael Jones McKean — which opens Feb. 18.