In his new role at UMMA, Leija will be responsible for the strategic direction and oversight of how the public experiences the Museum, and learns in and from it. 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,” says 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 (UMS), one of the country’s leading performing arts presenters and housed at the University of Michigan. 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 non-traditional audiences.
At UMS Leija produced Yo-Yo Ma’s “Day of Action” in Flint, Michigan which gathered over 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 theater series “No Safety Net” focused on pressing social issues, designing related public programs such as an anti-racism workshop.
He was also 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 (supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation).
“It’s a privilege to be joining UMMA,” says Leija. “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.”
Jim Leija holds three degrees from the University of Michigan: 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.