Hayner receives Lakeshore ATHENA

October 10, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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Judith Hayner, executive director of the Muskegon Museum of Art and this year's Lakeshore ATHENA Award recipient, just wants to leave everything she touches a little better than when she found it.

A native of southeast Michigan, Hayner was named to lead the museum in 2003, and in fact has lived much of her adult life in the Muskegon area.

Her efforts have undoubtedly added to the overall quality of life in the West Michigan region. Since she was named to head the museum, its attendance has increased by 43 percent and a number of noteworthy exhibitions have been mounted there, such as "Incalmo," a showing of studio glass art created by the acclaimed Sonja Blomdahl of Seattle. Blomdahl also appeared at the museum to talk about her work.

Currently, the museum is preparing a major traveling exhibition on the history of the Herman Miller company in regard to design.

Last week Hayner was announced as the recipient of the Lakeshore ATHENA Award, a collaboration of Chamber of Grand Haven/Spring Lake/Ferrysburg, Holland Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce.

Seventeen women were nominated for the award, which recognizes exceptional individuals who have demonstrated excellence, creativity and initiative in their business or profession, provided valuable service by contributing time and energy to improving the quality of life for others in the community, and actively assisted women in realizing their full leadership potential.

Throughout her career, Hayner has worked with and on behalf of women as a mentor, role model and advocate, in positions including therapist at the University of Arkansas, executive director of Every Woman's Place, first female assistant superintendent for Muskegon Public Schools, and in her current position at the art museum.

As the second executive director for Muskegon's Every Woman's Place, Hayner proposed Run, Jane, Run, the only women-only sports competition in the country, as a fundraiser for the organization. It grew to be the largest woman-only athletic festival in the state of Michigan, and ultimately had 1,000 women competing in 10 sports. Hayner also received the Woman of the Year award from Quadrangle, a professional businesswomen's organization, while in this role.

In 2001, she co-led the effort to save Hackley Public Library by turning it into an independent district library, and in 2002, she led a successful countywide campaign to build and fund the Muskegon Area Career Tech Center.

At the art museum, she hired the first female curator of collections in the museum's 96-year history. She has added more diversity to the exhibition schedule and created more events that showcase regional artists.

Last year the museum hosted the exclusive Michigan exhibition of "Women Only! In Their Studio," a national traveling exhibit featuring the works of 20 nationally known contemporary women artists.

Hayner has worked with local and state advocacy groups for women; the Michigan Adult and Community Education Association, lobbying for adequate adult education services for both men and women; and has served on the boards of Project Literacy, the Muskegon Area Children's Agenda and United Way. She also assisted with the County District Library millage campaign in 2006. Hayner is currently a member of the Muskegon Rotary Club, and member of state and national associations that promote arts and culture.

"I have discovered through my various positions that I love the opportunity to make something better than it was when I found it," Hayner said. "We can't fix it all, and we can't guarantee that what we do will last forever, but we can make a difference."

Museums are no more insulated from the gyrations of the stock market than any other large organization or business. Hayner told the Business Journal that the Muskegon Art Museum, which has a $1 million annual operating budget, may be facing a major challenge next year.

"About 40 percent of our funding comes through two endowment funds that are invested. So I'm very concerned about next fiscal year," she said.

THE ATHENA AWARD is presented annually by chambers of commerce, women's organizations and universities. Since the program's inception in 1982, more than 5,000 awards have been presented in more than 500 communities in the United States, Canada, China, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.

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