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UMMA names Jim Leija deputy director of public experience and learning

By Carrie Throm

Abigel Szilagyi violin

Jim Leija is the new deputy director of public experience and learning at UMMA. Photo by Jesse Meria.

ANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan Museum of Art has appointed Jim Leija as its deputy director for public experience and learning. His appointment is effective Sept. 9, 2019.

In his new role at UMMA, Leija will be responsible for the strategic direction and oversight of how the public learns from and experiences the museum. He will advocate for a diversity of audiences, partner with community and student groups, and actively curate spaces inside and outside the museum to address the desires and needs of a broad, engaged public. 

“We are thrilled to welcome Jim Leija to UMMA,” said UMMA director Christina Olsen. “He has deep experience partnering with communities on creative projects that address urgent issues and exploring the intersections of theatrical and visual artist practice and spaces. His background will benefit the museum tremendously as it seeks to imagine in new ways the role of a dynamic campus museum at a world-class university.”  

Leija comes to UMMA from the University Musical Society, one of the country’s leading performing arts presenters housed at U-M. As director of education and community engagement since 2011, Leija’s tenure at UMS has been marked by significant growth in partnership with the community, university and nontraditional audiences.

At UMS, Leija produced Yo-Yo Ma’s “Day of Action” in Flint, Michigan, which gathered more than 700 Flint community members in dialogue and celebration. He also implemented the University of Michigan Credit Union Arts Adventures program for underserved K-12 schools, dramatically increasing participation of these youth in school day performances. Most recently, he co-curated UMS’s “No Safety Net” theater series focused on pressing social issues, designing related public programs such as an anti-racism workshop.

Leija also was instrumental in designing and implementing two major educational and performance residencies with the New York Philharmonic, and launched an arts-academic integration program with the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

“It’s a privilege to be joining UMMA,” Leija said. “My career has been dedicated to making the arts accessible to everyone, and I look forward to helping shape the museum as an even more inclusive, diverse and welcoming place. I see an incredible opportunity to grow UMMA’s core programs around arts and ideas, creativity and social impact. I’m excited to work with the UMMA team to bring communities together, encourage empathy and understanding through the arts, and shift perspectives on a whole range of concerns.”

Leija holds three degrees from U-M: an MFA in art and design, a BA in sociology and a BFA in musical theatre. He is a frequent presenter at the Association of Performing Arts Professionals conference and other national arts gatherings, and is a trustee of Dance/USA. Locally, he serves as vice president and trustee of the Ann Arbor District Library.