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Dynamic arts professional has strong, clear vision for UICA's future

An interview with Miranda Krajniak, the recently appointed Interim Executive Director of the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts.

Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts

2 Fulton West

Grand Rapids, MI 49503

ph: 616-454-7000


Gallery Hours

Mon: Closed

Tues - Thurs: 5:00 - 9:00 p.m.

Fri - Sat: 12:00 - 9:00 p.m.

Sun: 12:00 - 7:00 p.m.


Shop Hours

Mon: 10:00 am - 5:00 p.m.

Tues - Fri: 10:00 am - 9:00 p.m.

Sat: 12:00 - 9:00 p.m.

Sun: 12:00 - 7:00 p.m.


Gallery Admission

Members: Free

Adults: $5

Five and under: Free


Film Admission

Members: $4

Non-members: $8 (gallery admission included)

Two weeks into her tenure as Interim Executive Director of UICA, Miranda Krajniac (pronounced KRAHN-yak) met with me on a sunny afternoon to discuss her background, the community and plans for the institution’s future. To get to UICA’s patio overlooking downtown Grand Rapids, we walked through galleries hung with current exhibitions CHROMA and the Festival Regional Exhibition, which saw over 700 people through the previous night during the opening reception.

Miranda is native to Michigan, and has very local roots. She grew up in Onondaga, a farming community northwest of Jackson, which had one stop sign, a gas station, a post office and a biker bar. Like many artists who grow up in rural areas of Michigan, she was attracted to Grand Rapids. A 2006 graduate of Kendall College of Art and Design, she's held leadership positions at the Grand Rapids Art Museum and most recently at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts. After trying life in Chicago for a time, she came back when she realized that here was where she really wanted to put her efforts.  

Miranda's quickly apparent combination of enthusiasm, confidence and intelligence make it easy to see why the Board of Directors chose her to take the helm of the organization. The press release announcing her appointment was glowing. Which led me to wonder, "why interim?"

"I have a specific amount of time that I'm here to make change. So, I am considered not only the Interim Executive Director but the acting candidate for Director," she replied. "A large national search for a director is something that is not only time consuming but is fairly costly. Eventually there will be [a permanent director]; we're looking at 13-15 months from now. If it's decided it's better to have an actual search, there will be one, or if I do such a phenomenal could be permanent. I have a decent amount of time to make some pretty major changes."

Indeed, she made pivotal changes during the 18 months she served as Manager of Education and Exhibitions at SCA, just previous to her appointment at UICA. Her role as head of Education encompassed children's education, all public interactive offerings and all adult education, which included the film program. Her role managing Exhibitions included serving as curator, preparator, and registrar. For six years the SCA had been run as extremely local, with the educational offerings disconnected from the exhibition programming. She was convinced they had the ability to become a major player in the region.

"Within my first year, I made a conscious effort to cut down on shows," she said. "We had six to seven a year. I took it down to four. Within those four, I wanted to have an international, national, a state, and a local show. So we could start to see how we work with larger organizations, how we work with other museums. It was important that SCA came onto the map a little bit more, that we were putting on shows of higher professional quality that had a greater longevity, and then within those shows, we created programming down from them. I have a very strategic mind, and so for me seeing three years into the future and backing up came naturally. I created a scaffolding for them to continue to grow in that way." 

Considering her strong curatorial role at SCA, will she be involved in the curatorial process at UICA? What are her plans for future programming?

"We have a Visual Arts Committee, the VAC. It's composed of professors, art professionals and artists...under Elizabeth Goddard, our exhibitions director, but I do see myself helping to sculpt the curatorial process here, and how we present exhibitions and when we present exhibitions. Planning is something that I'm going to also be a pretty big part of, getting our committee and our staff to the point where we're planning out three years in advance."

Visiting the UICA can bring visitors into contact with that which is outside of the ordinary. I asked Miranda if she could recall her first encounter, or perhaps a very memorable early experience attending an event at UICA. 

"In school, Deb Rockman, my graduate drawing professor, encouraged us to go to an opening to see a performance art piece," she replied. "[The artist] washed the floor of Sheldon with milk. So the entire time he was scrubbing. It was both entrancing but very puzzling because he was silent. He washed the floor with milk,and that really stuck out in my mind. I was very young, just learning, of course...about contemporary art. I don't know that I'd ever seen a performance art piece, other than [in] art history [class]."

With much focus on cities growing, attracting and retaining a young talented population, especially in Michigan, Miranda can easily be seen as both a successful example of this objective and an agent working to accomplish this goal. She's part of the New Leaders group in MCACA, which, among other activities, gives grants to youths 14-30. The organization is really focused on youth retention and growth. UICA's own successful ArtWorks teen program has won national recognition and Miranda points to WMCAT's work with teens as a corollary to UICA's programming.

As with any conversation about a longstanding organization, talking about its future often includes talking about its past. Approximately a year ago, UICA abruptly announced a reorganization, which included the immediate departure of then-Executive Director Jeffrey Meeuwsen. This followed the construction of their new building at 2 West Fulton. I asked Miranda about the current financial state of affairs.

“We are very close. We can see a future in which we are financially stable,she replied without hesitation. "We're actively working towards it with a very dedicated group of funders in the region."

The UICA has evolved during the past few decades from a counter-cultural organization to an established institution. There’s been a perception, correct or not, among the local artist community that it no longer serves local artists as it once did. In recent months UICA has taken steps to re-embrace the community. Miranda has plans to continue in this direction.

"There are always growing pains when a cultural organization becomes a little bit larger. Local artists will always have a place here," she emphasized. "It will always be our mission to nurture up and coming artists, but it's not going to be the only part of our mission. We are larger, more sophisticated, and we're ready to take on a dual role. Showing local artists what other artists across the country and internationally are doing, that is serving local artists as well. Providing artwork which is outside of our sphere is very interconnected to serving local artists."

The organization has moved to different locations a few times since its establishment in 1977. Once the current building opened, response to the layout of the galleries was not entirely positive.

"I do not see the building as a hurdle at all to our success. The building is beautiful," Miranda answered, with an expansive motion towards the very subject of discussion. "Change is difficult...there's a lot of nostalgia with the old building...and sometimes there's often difficulty in accepting a contemporary layout, but the community will warm to it once it's become a little bit more familiar.  We're doing what we can to make it the best experience. We want people to enjoy themselves in the space and [see us] as a cultural institution that is welcoming."

Disclosure: I'm a member of UICA.

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So that was quite a memorable experience for you as well!