Ira Wagner named interim director of Montclair Art Museum

Ira Wagner

MONTCLAIR, NJ — The Montclair Art Museum announced that Ira Wagner has been appointed interim director beginning May 18. Current Director Lora Urbanelli will stay on as an adviser through June, when she will begin her planned retirement.

The board had been in the search process for a new director when the COVID-19 crisis struck and forced the museum to operate on a virtual basis for its exhibits and educational programs. During this time of uncertainty, the board felt it best to put that process on temporary hold and name an interim director who has a deep understanding of the institution and strong relationships with both its staff and board.

A Montclair resident for more than 30 years, Wagner earned an MBA from The Wharton School in 1981 and worked in finance for 25 years. He became involved with the museum in 2002 when he joined the board of trustees as co-chairman, and eventually chairman, of the Finance Committee. Deciding to pursue his love of art, Wagner enrolled at the University of Hartford, earning an MFA in photography in 2013, and has been teaching photography at Monmouth University and working as an artist. After stepping down from the board in 2016, Wagner was hired as a senior staff member, working with department directors to improve and implement many of the museum’s programs and initiatives. 

Like Urbanelli did in 2009 amid the Great Recession, Wagner is stepping into a leadership role during a crisis. Having been on the board during that period, however, he believes that the museum is in a much better place today thanks to the many achievements Urbanelli accomplished as director for the past 11 years.

“Lora started in a crisis, but took many steps during her tenure that have helped MAM thrive. I’m confident that the museum can weather this new crisis and come out even stronger,” Wagner said.

Since being forced to close its building, MAM has been working hard to create engaging digital content to stay connected to its community.

“Virtual MAM was created in response to a crisis, but can be of real value going forward,” he said. “With its digital offerings, MAM will be able to expand its footprint and reach a new audience, bringing with them a new base of members and supporters.”

Beginning and ending during a crisis is not how Urbanelli had envisioned her tenure at MAM, but she said she will leave confident that the museum is in good hands. 

“MAM will remain a vibrant and revitalized arts center ready to serve its community, thanks to Ira’s leadership, an incredible team of staff, an engaged board and the service of its volunteers,” she said.