Pamela Hugdahl (photo courtesy Rochester Art Center)

The Rochester Art Center just hired its sixth executive director since 2008.

“It’s a crazy time to start a new job,” said Pamela Hugdahl, who assumed her new post amid a global pandemic and social unrest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

A Duluth native who worked her way up from guard to assistant registrar over 13 years at the Walker Art Center, Hugdahl takes over from Brian Austin, the marketing executive who stepped up to lead the RAC back from the brink of insolvency after mounting deficits forced the center to lay off most of its staff.

After leaving the Walker in 2013, Hugdahl honed her upper-level management skills at Wisconsin art centers. She spent three years as director at the Cedarburg Art Museum followed by a three-year stint as administrative director at the Port Washington Saukville Arts Council (dba Gallery 224). In both of those roles, she managed a team of three people. At RAC she will oversee six full-timers and six part-timers.

Because of the pandemic, her family, including her 3-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, is making the move from Port Washington, Wis., in multiple trips.

The museum is on target to reopen July 1, and is also moving forward with summer camps, using social distancing precautions. Artistic director Sheila Dickinson is already planning exhibitions relating to health-care workers and how kids are responding to COVID-19 through art.

Hugdahl is new to the Rochester community, a departure from previous executive directors who have a history of being tied to the museum through spouses or board membership.

“The board based their decision on my track record and what they learned about me when they met me in interviews,” said Hugdahl. “I think it positions me to build new relationships for the art center and foster some relationships that need to be rebuilt.”

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