NASHVILLE, Tenn. (February 23, 2022)—The Frist Art Museum Board of Trustees has announced Nashville-raised Seth Feman, PhD, as its new Executive Director and CEO. As a scholar, educator, and curator with a decade in several leadership roles at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, Dr. Feman returns to Nashville to direct the Frist into its next chapter of growth and service to the community. His appointment follows the retirement of Dr. Susan H. Edwards, who has served as the Frist’s Executive Director and CEO since 2004.
“After an extensive international search managed by trustee and human resources committee chair Deborah Story, the Board of Trustees is delighted to share the news that Dr. Seth Feman has unanimously been appointed the Frist Art Museum’s new director,” said Frist Art Museum Board of Trustees Chairman and President Billy Frist. “Seth brings a wealth of experience, expertise, and compassion to further execute our founding vision and mission. Having grown up in Nashville, he has an invaluable understanding of our community and our institution’s role in it. We are very grateful for all of the work Deborah and the search committee conducted in this process, and we know that Seth will hit the ground running fully equipped to build on our existing strengths.”
In his role as Deputy Director for Art and Interpretation and Curator of Photography at the Chrysler Art Museum, Dr. Feman led the curatorial, education, and registration departments to develop dynamic exhibitions, transformative learning experiences, and engaging programming. He joined the Chrysler in 2012 to support the museum’s renovation and reinstallation by developing and implementing a new interpretive and collections display strategy. After several years in the education department, he was named Curator of Exhibitions and Photography during which time he oversaw the exhibition program and relaunched the photography program by significantly expanding the photography collection.
“I am thrilled to join the incredible team at the Frist Art Museum, and I look forward to collaborating with the talented, mission-driven staff, devoted board, and supportive community in Nashville. Together, we will continue to ensure the Frist is a vibrant source of inspiration and meaningful connection for people throughout the region and beyond,” said Dr. Feman. “With a deep appreciation for Nashville’s culture and ambition, I have long admired how the Frist has developed its exhibitions and programs to enable visitors to experience a diversity of cultures from around the world and work by artists from the region. Over the years, I have had the great fortune of collaborating with the excellent staff at the Frist on planning touring exhibitions, and I am consistently inspired by the team’s collegiality, creativity, and drive. This opportunity is the fulfillment of a long-term dream. I am profoundly honored and elated to come home to serve a community and state that I love.”
Frist audiences may recognize Dr. Feman as the co-curator of Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful, an exhibition co-organized by the Chrysler Museum of Art and The Columbus Museum, Georgia, which will be on view in the Frist’s Upper-Level Galleries from February 25 through June 5, 2022. Dr. Feman and co-curator Jonathan Frederick Walz of The Columbus Museum will lead the exhibition’s opening events and program. He also worked closely with the Frist staff in planning the presentation of Chaos and Awe: Painting for the 21st Century at the Chrysler Museum of Art in 2018.
Dr. Feman will assume the executive directorship in mid-April at the beginning of the Frist’s twenty-first year of operation. In the interim period, Anne Henderson, the Frist’s Director of Education and Engagement, will serve as acting director.
“The search committee, with the professional assistance of executive search firm Koya Partners, worked extensively to recruit the best talent to serve as the Frist’s new director,” said Deborah Story. “We considered many talented individuals and ultimately chose Seth Feman, who we believe is right for leading the Frist, and is ecstatic about returning to make a positive impact in his hometown.” The members of the Frist Art Museum Board of Trustees Search Committee are Pete Bird, Billy Frist, Frank Garrison, Jamaal Sheats, John Smithwick, Deborah Story, Julie Walker, and Gail Carr Williams.
Dr. Edwards, who has served as the Frist’s director since 2004, retired on February 22. During Dr. Edwards’ tenure, the Frist was awarded accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums and has presented more than 225 critically acclaimed and popular exhibitions. “Susan Edwards has elevated the museum in ways we could only imagine in our early days,” said Billy Frist. “She has placed the museum firmly on an international stage. Not only has she made the presentation of the visual arts and discourse surrounding them diverse and accessible during her time at the museum, but she also changed lives and Nashville in the process.”
“Susan Edwards built an incredible team and her long-standing leadership has ensured their success,” said Dr. Feman. “Much like the Frist, the Chrysler has transformed from a beloved, regional art center into a thriving, dynamic, and internationally recognized cultural hub. I am eager to listen to the staff, volunteers, and guests to learn about their ideas, experiences, and aspirations. Through this team’s efforts, the Frist has done an extraordinary job of public engagement, and they have produced a thoughtful Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility plan to ensure broader meaningful interactions with the many communities the museum serves. In addition to learning from key stakeholders, I am also eager to meet people who are not yet connected to the Frist. One of my top priorities is ensuring that the museum is a space where all people are welcomed to connect with art and each other. Amplifying the Frist’s efforts to enhance access, representation, and engagement are goals that will be top of mind for me.”
Over the past nine years, Dr. Feman successfully expanded the Chrysler’s community of supporters by developing a skilled professional staff and insisting that the institution’s national reputation be founded on exemplary local engagement. Through a series of roles at the museum, he has shepherded the Chrysler through a successful renovation and reinstallation; realized a robust program of in-house generated, traveling exhibitions; developed an array of new programs that draws on an extensive network of community partnerships; and secured funding for the next stage of the museum’s growth.
In his most recent role as the Deputy Director for Art and Interpretation and Curator of Photography, he established and implemented strategic priorities for the institution; oversaw a $9-million annual operating budget; managed several board committees and donor groups; and coordinated the work of the curatorial, conservation, education, library, registration, and exhibition teams with a staff of more than 100. Since 2019, he has helped lead the organization through the American Alliance of Museums reaccreditation process; written and commenced a new strategic plan that prioritizes access, inclusion, and retention of diverse staff and visitors; and supported a feasibility study and fundraising efforts that ensured the museum’s institutional goals are attainable. With a track record of sound fiscal management and nimble budgetary administration, Dr. Feman’s teams have thrived, even during the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a leader, I believe my role is to articulate core principles and shared priorities, build broad-based cooperation, and empower teams to realize ambitious goals while attending to the practical operations of the organization and preparing for its long-term growth,” said Dr. Feman. “These qualities are deeply rooted in my fundamental conviction that art has the ability to transform individuals and communities by stimulating critical reflection, creative thinking, interdisciplinary perspectives, and cross-cultural appreciation and respect.”
Dr. Feman’s scholarship on American art and photography has received support from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Getty Foundation, the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Henry Luce Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts and resulted in numerous essays, articles, and publications. He has taught at the College of William and Mary and Lewis and Clark College and has worked as an educator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. He received his BA in art history from Vassar College and his MA and PhD in American studies from the College of William and Mary. He graduated high school in 1997 from the University School of Nashville.
The Frist Art Museum is supported in part by The Frist Foundation, the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
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About the Frist Art Museum
Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the Frist Art Museum is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit art exhibition center dedicated to presenting and originating high-quality exhibitions with related educational programs and community outreach activities. Located at 919 Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tenn., the Frist Art Museum offers the finest visual art from local, regional, national, and international sources in exhibitions that inspire people through art to look at their world in new ways. Information on accessibility can be found at FristArtMuseum.org/accessibility. Gallery admission is free for visitors ages 18 and younger and for members, and $15 for adults. For current hours and additional information, visit FristArtMuseum.org or call 615.244.3340.