Longtime Eric Carle Museum director Alexandra Kennedy stepping down this year

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 01-27-2023 9:34 PM

AMHERST — After almost 15 years leading the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Executive Director Alexandra Kennedy plans to step down from her post this year.

But Kennedy, known at the Carle as Alix, says she hopes to stay engaged with the museum in different capacities: “It’s been such an important part of my life for so long that I can’t see myself not being involved in some way.”

Kennedy came to the Carle in 2008 after working for years in the publishing industry in different capacities. During her time in Amherst, museum officials say, Kennedy has led efforts to expand and diversify the Carle’s collection, build partnerships with other organizations, and develop a traveling exhibition program that reaches an estimated 750,000 viewers annually around the world.

In a statement, Christopher B. Milne, who chairs the Carle’s board of directors, called Kennedy “a dynamic leader for the museum, building trust and respect with everyone she works with. She has a deeply held belief in the power of art — to bring joy, to encourage creativity, to unite people of all ages.”

In a phone call this week, Kennedy, who lives in Northampton, said her plans are still undecided, though she’s interested in using her background in writing, editing and management for different organizations, including nonprofits and those involved in the arts.

“The first part of my life was in publishing, and the second was in museums,” she said. “In the last few years, I started wondering, ‘Do I have time and space for a third career path?’ ”

Meanwhile, the Carle Museum, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2022, “is in a really good place,” she said. “We’re strong and stable … we can make a transition” in leadership.

A graduate of the MFA program in poetry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Kennedy previously worked in Northampton for the former Family Fun magazine and then with Disney Publishing Worldwide; at the latter she was a vice president and editorial director in charge of U.S. magazines.

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She says she was approached by the Carle to become just the museum’s second director, replacing Nichols B. Clark, the founding director.

“I was flattered,” she said. “I didn’t have any background in museum work, but I thought this would be a great opportunity to work for a nonprofit, and one with a really unique mission.”

Reflecting on her time at the Carle, Kennedy says she’s especially grateful for how she was welcomed by children’s book writers and illustrators here in the Valley.

“They didn’t know me, and I had no background in the field, but they made me part of the community,” she said.

Kennedy says she’s also grateful for all the years she was able to work and travel with the late Eric Carle himself — the seminal children’s book writer died in 2021 — and Carle’s late wife, Bobbie.

She’ll stay at the Carle while a nationwide search takes place for her successor and then help the new director settle in, a process that’s expected to last until fall.

But just as Clark has maintained his ties with the museum in different ways, such as curating occasional exhibits, Kennedy says she plans to stay involved with the Carle as well. “Absolutely,” she said.

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