New executive director sketches out vision for Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City

Sep 26, 2019

When Eugene Jenneman announced his retirement from the Dennos Museum Center last year, the art museum in Traverse City began a national search for his replacement. Jenneman had been the first and only executive director of the museum since it opened nearly 30 years ago.

After narrowing the search, their top choice was 35 year-old Craig Hadley, who spent the last eight years as curator of the art museum at DePauw University in Indiana.

Hadley says it was intimidating coming into a position that had been occupied by one person for so long, but it also shows how well Jenneman had run the museum.

“What it really signaled to me was that Gene had built a program that was incredibly stable, but at the same time really captured his vision for what a community arts center and organization could be for a small community,” he says.

During his college years, Craig Hadley studied to become a K-12 teacher at Beloit College in Wisconsin. There, he took a museum education class that changed his life. 

“I thought, this is what I want to do,” he recalls. “It’s a great way to marry all my different passions together. Both for objects, and museums, working with things, but then also finding ways to work with the public and to teach.”

Hadley says one of the things that attracted him to the Dennos Museum Center, was its connection to Northwestern Michigan College. It brought a long a level of familiarity and comfortability.

“I’ve spent most of my time in college, university museums in smaller communities,” he says. “And so that was what was so appealing about the Dennos, was it was a larger-scale operation for a smaller community.” 

Hadley hopes to use the connection between the museum and school to broaden arts-based learning across all disciplines at NMC.

“I think it’s really important for us to find ways to both build bridges, but also integrate our programs,” he says. “So we can provide experiential learning not just for the art student, but for students in other disciplines and departments.” 

Another goal for Hadley as he begins his new job is to get the Dennos accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. He says it’s an extremely rigorous process that only about 5 percent of museums across America have received from the AAM.

Hadley is familiar with accreditation, as he guided the art museum at DePauw University through the process. He says it’s is important because it signals to their peers that they know and operate the museum according to recognized best practices. Hadley says it’s also important in terms of attracting gifts to the museum.

“That signals to … potential donors that we’re competent and we’re capable and we know what we’re doing when it comes to collections care,” he says.

Hadley says more immediately, he'll be taking stock of what the museum has, and making sure their database system is up to date.