Gary Ryan will be the new executive director of the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach. She succeeds Debi Gray, who announced her retirement in June after being at the museum since 2009. Ryan will begin in her new post in January.
Ryan has worked at the Katonah Museum of Art in Upstate New York, about an hour north of Manhattan, since 2016. She has been the museum’s development director since January, and served as its interim co-executive director between February and July.
Prior to joining the Katonah Museum, she founded Palermo Strategy, a fundraising consulting firm, and worked in development positions at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Between 1997 and 2010, Ryan held various positions at Time, Inc.
Under Gray’s tenure, Virginia MOCA received accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums in 2010 and rebranded its identity the following year. The museum has slowly gained a national reputation for staging well-regarded exhibitions, including solo outings by Inka Essenhigh in 2018 and Mickalene Thomas in 2017, and the 2017 group exhibitions “Mindful: Exploring Mental Health Through Art,” and “Southern Routes,” which featured work by photographers from throughout the American South.
“The museum has seen a great evolution over the last five years,” Virginia MOCA board chair Andrew Hodge told ARTnews. “We were looking for the next executive director to continue the work Debi had started. Gary was the frontrunner from the beginning. She has a great wealth of experience not just in the museum world. She has a vision that is thoughtful in the sense that she’s not just thinking about today or tomorrow but years out.”
Ryan grew up in the neighboring town of Norfolk, where the area’s creative community “engendered in me a lifelong love of culture and the arts,” she said. Having spent the past 20 years in the New York area, she has witnessed Virginia MOCA grow into “a remarkable regional institution that has dedicated itself to bringing art of the highest quality to the broader area of Hampton Roads.”
She added that Virginia MOCA is similar to the Katonah Museum, in that both are non-collecting institutions. “A museum outside of a cultural center, even just 40 miles outside, can play a really important role in bringing art to the suburbs and fostering those connections and conversations that are inherent in experiencing art,” Ryan said. “This opportunity at Virginia MOCA combines two things that I’m interested in supporting creative thinking and self-expression and making sure that artists have vibrant places to display their art and for the public to experience it.”