The board of trustees of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, announced today that Jennifer Schantz has been appointed the Museum’s new executive director, effective September 18, 2023. Schantz will be the Museum’s third executive director, taking over for Alexandra Kennedy, who is stepping down after 15 years of distinguished leadership. H. Nichols B. Clark was the founding director at the Museum’s opening in 2002.
Board Chair Christopher B. Milne shared the news earlier today. “Jen brings unparalleled skills,” he said in a letter to Museum staff and supporters. “She has more than 20 years of experience in New York cultural institutions as both a visionary director and as an executive who’s led and transformed virtually every museum department, from legal to operations to development.”
On behalf of the search committee, he added, “We conducted a thorough national search and met many qualified candidates. It was clear right away that Jen shares the staff’s passion for art and literacy and recognizes the critical role The Carle plays as an institution dedicated to artistic expression. She already has high ambitions for its future, expanding and diversifying its national and international audience. Her enthusiasm and confidence have been contagious.”
“I’m really excited to join the outstanding Carle team and drive forward its mission of championing picture book art,” says Schantz. “Eric and Barbara Carle were such visionaries, creating a stunning art museum for visitors of all ages, and elevating an important art form. It’s through their vision that The Carle has become more than a museum—a thought leader and a haven where picture book art, literature, and imagination come alive—and I can’t wait to start.”
Schantz, who has been consulting for cultural organizations for the past year, was most recently the Barbara G. and Lawrence A. Fleischman Executive Director at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center in Manhattan, an educational research and circulating library and museum of theatre, dance, music, and recorded sound. Her tenure began in March 2020, at the start of the pandemic. Together with William P. Kelly, the New York Public Library’s former Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Research Libraries, and the performing arts library team, she developed a bold vision to reimagine the future of their institution to allow patrons access to their resources.
Under Schantz’s leadership, the library and museum grew its public profile, raised over $14 million dollars for strategic initiatives, and launched numerous innovative exhibitions, programs, and projects, including the Harvey Fierstein Theatre Lab, the largest outdoor reading room in New York City, and the blockbuster exhibition Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars in collaboration with multimedia artist Laurie Anderson. With performance spaces closed, artists urgently needed new ways to connect. The library launched the innovative “Tech Kits for Performing Artists” initiative, so performers could borrow hardware and software and publish their works online, giving artists in need a voice at an especially crucial time.
Schantz began her career as an attorney, first at a large New York City firm and later at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where she prosecuted civil actions and criminal forfeiture cases. In 2007, the New-York Historical Society’s President and CEO Louise Mirrer recruited Schantz, who had been practicing law for 12 years, as the institution’s first general counsel and chief administrative officer.
Over almost 13 years there, Schantz played a number of key executive roles at the New-York Historical Society, including acting museum director, acting director of the DiMenna Children’s History Museum, acting director of development, secretary to the board of trustees, and—ultimately—executive vice president and chief operating officer. In that role, she oversaw the museum’s day-to-day operational and administrative activities, including major capital projects. Throughout her tenure, she led a team of more than 80 staff members and multiple departments, including curatorial, exhibition design, collections management, visitor services, legal, labor relations, human resources, maintenance, and security.
While acting director of the DiMenna Children’s History Museum in 2016, one of the many family-oriented programs Schantz directed was the presentation of The Carle’s exhibition The Art and Whimsy of Mo Willems. She also supported the expansion of the museum’s Citizenship Project, providing civics classes to thousands of green card holders, helping them pass their United States Citizenship and Immigrant Services naturalization test. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg presided over a naturalization ceremony at the museum in 2018.
Schantz, who is classically trained on flute and piccolo, is from a long line of musicians. She attended the Juilliard Pre-College, has a B.A. in international relations from Tufts University, and received her J.D. from the University of Buffalo School of Law.
Once Schantz assumes her role on September 18, Kennedy will continue for a short time in a limited role focused on introducing Schantz to Museum partners and donors. Kennedy’s last day will be November 21. The Museum is launching a fundraising campaign later in August to honor Kennedy’s accomplishments as executive director, with a donor celebration planned at the Museum on November 4.
“I can’t wait to introduce The Carle’s many friends and supporters to Jen,” says Kennedy. “She’s a true champion of the arts, and I know will get a warm greeting, like I did, from the picture-book community. I have great confidence in her ability to take The Carle to all new heights.”