Tim Peterson has been hired as the new executive director at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland. Courtesy of CMCA

The Center for Maine Contemporary Art has hired a curator and arts administrator from the Midwest as its next executive director and chief curator. Timothy Peterson, who currently serves as executive director of the multi-disciplinary Northfield Arts Guild in Minnesota, will succeed CMCA’s longtime director, Suzette McAvoy, who will retire at year’s end.

Peterson, 55, begins in Rockland in mid-January.

He has extensive experience presenting contemporary art. Prior to working for the Northfield Arts Guild, Peterson was chief curator at the museum at the Savannah College of Art and Design and founding executive of Franklin Art Works in Minneapolis, a large-scale alternative art space where he curated more than 130 exhibitions in 15 years. Among the artists he has worked with are Njideka Akunyili Crosby, a Nigerian-born visual artist who later won a MacArthur “genius” grant, and Kehinde Wiley, a New York painter who painted Barack Obama’s formal portrait.

He also has worked as an assistant curator at the Lannan Foundation in Los Angeles and as a curatorial assistant at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. He’s been a guest curator at the Provincetown International Film Festival and adjunct instructor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

In a phone interview, Peterson said he has built his career on creating opportunities for young and emerging artists, with an emphasis on gender equity and inclusion. “The alternative space that I founded in Minneapolis was a little smaller than CMCA, and it gave us a great opportunity to do what we wanted to do,” he said. “At the time, Minneapolis was not offering local artists opportunities, so when I started, there was this backlog of artists who have since gone on to major museums and big careers. All that I did was play a part in that path by giving them opportunities at a key moment in their career.”

Peterson earned a master’s in art history from Williams College and a bachelor’s in studio art and art criticism from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.

Martha Jones of South Thomaston, who chairs the CMCA board, said 44 people applied for the job and Peterson emerged as the top choice because of his management experience, his history of boosting the careers of artists and his ability to raise money. They were also attracted to his perspective on contemporary art and the fresh impressions that he will bring to contemporary art in Maine.

She described him as a risk-taker. “It would have been easy enough to bring somebody in with expert knowledge of Maine art and Maine artists, but would they be giving it a fresh perspective? In the end, we went for the fresh perspective, as well as his enthusiasm and his ability to come in and hit the ground running,” Jones said. “He has no fear of meeting new people. He is very engaging and outgoing. He is a high-energy, charming guy with a good sense of humor.”

CMCA did not disclose his salary.

Peterson will begin working during the final quarter of CMCA’s fiscal year, which begins April 1. That means he will be part of the budget and planning process as CMCA works its way through the pandemic, Jones said. The arts center operates with an annual budget of about $700,000.

Peterson described the CMCA job as an attractive combination of curatorial and administrative duties. At his current job at the nonprofit Northfield Arts Guild, he stewards a mission that includes theater and music in addition to the visual arts. He is eager to return his focus exclusively to the visual arts.

“I am happy to get back into the heart of the contemporary art field. CMCA is a tremendous fit on every level,” he said. “The building is stunning, and it fires up my imagination for engaging the community.”

In a statement, McAvoy said she “could not be more pleased with Tim’s selection as the next leader of CMCA. His extensive curatorial and leadership experience, knowledge of contemporary art, and passion for working with living artists are exactly right for CMCA. I am excited to introduce him to the Maine art community and to be handing the reins of CMCA over to someone as qualified as Tim.”

In an interview, Jones said the board was grateful for McAvoy’s “singing endorsement,” and board members view Peterson as someone with the personality, charisma and vision to succeed a popular leader like McAvoy. “It will be wonderful to have him lead us into the next chapter and continue Suzette’s exemplary legacy,” Jones said.

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