Brian Lee Whisenhunt

Tapped as Gilcrease Museum’s newest executive director, Brian Lee Whisenhunt began his tenure on April 15. Most previously, Whisenhunt was the executive director at New York’s Rockwell Museum, serving on the board of directors of the Museum Association of New York and as a peer reviewer for the American Alliance of Museums Accreditation Commission.

A Tulsa native, Whisenhunt received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art history from the University of Oklahoma before working at such institutions as the Wichita (Kansas) Art Museum, the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin, the Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute, Ind., and the Museum of the Southwest in Midland, Texas. We caught up with Whisenhunt and got his thoughts on … 

… what he’s looking forward to right off the bat. 

It’s an exhilarating moment as I step into the role of executive director, ready to lead the Gilcrease team into an exciting new chapter! In my first few months, I’ll be pursuing two distinct paths: immersing myself in our ongoing construction projects and connecting with the vibrant communities we serve.

… returning to his hometown and helming Gilcrease. 

Gilcrease and the other cultural institutions of Tulsa were a lifeline to me growing up – a bridge to a world of ideas, culture and expression. Coming back to lead Gilcrease means the world to me. It’s so much more than a professional opportunity. This is a passion project! My mission is to spark inspiration in the next generation of museum goers, encouraging them to pursue their passions and interests with the foundation of the self-awareness and community regard that only an innovative museum experience can provide. 

… specific Gilcrease pieces he’s excited about seeing.

I’m so excited to see so many ‘old friends’ familiar to me from growing up with the Gilcrease collection, but also eager to learn how the collection has evolved in the past few years. I’m particularly interested in artists bringing new perspectives and innovation to traditional techniques and materials. I won’t play favorites – or at least not yet!  

… moving back to Tulsa. 

There is so much of what I loved about growing up in Tulsa still foundational to the experience of the city – but also so much that has been added! I can’t wait to revisit my old haunts like Cherry Street and Philbrook, but I’m also thrilled to get to know the new organizations and community spaces that have grown up in the time I’ve been away, like the Woody Guthrie Center and Gathering Place. I also can’t wait to explore Tulsa’s expanded food scene. (Please invite me to lunch at your favorite spot!) The city has such a vibrant and evolving culinary culture.

… how Gilcrease can transform Tulsa.

In 10 years, the community will see their experiences at Gilcrease as essential and integral to their lives and the community in a way they may not currently. The continued expansion of the collections will help people to truly see themselves and understand the world around them more clearly. Plus, I know the rich and varied exhibitions, innovative programs, signature events and creative activities in development will be an even stronger part of the true Tulsa experience. 

… his free time. 

You’ll find me and my husband, Mitchell, enjoying the city’s trails and parks with our two dogs, Stella Jo and Nova Dee. We’ll most certainly be regulars at the Farmers Market, looking for the best Oklahoma produce (bring on the okra!) to serve family and friends. Likewise, dining out at all the great restaurants with new and old friends alike will certainly be a part of our routine. And of course, we’re eager to engage in the abundant arts and cultural programming and events offered in my beautiful hometown. 

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