Heidi Zuckerman

Heidi Zuckerman will step down from her role as CEO and director of the Aspen Art Museum at the end of her contract period on Sept. 30, the museum’s board of trustees announced Friday evening.

“Heidi is a visionary director who has turned this museum into a global leader in contemporary art, and we wish her the best in all her future plans,” a statement from the board reads.

No reason was given for Zuckerman’s departure, and she could not be reached Friday evening by the Aspen Daily News’ press time. A New York-based public relations firm announced the decision, and a representative said further information would likely not be released over the weekend.

The announcement came two days shy of her 14th anniversary at the organization. Zuckerman moved to Aspen from Northern California to begin her tenure as director and chief curator on July 1, 2005. She is among the more established art executives in the industry, having curated more than 100 exhibitions throughout her career.

“My goal was always to be a destination museum, instead of a museum in a destination,” Zuckerman told the Aspen Daily News in a mid-May interview. “And we’ve achieved that.”

When Zuckerman joined the museum, which was then located on the outskirts of downtown, it saw around 12,000 visitors per year, she said last month. Under her direction, the Aspen Art Museum in 2008 changed its admission to be free of charge, and visitation tripled. 

Today, Aspen Art Museum attracts about 100,000 visitors annually, Zuckerman said.

“Together, we have made the AAM into the vibrant, thriving, and globally facing international institution it is today,” she said in Friday’s board statement. “I believe, more than ever, that ‘Art Saves Lives,’ and I am excited to continue connecting people with art and artists in order to make lives better.”

Zuckerman was instrumental in fundraising and advocating for the art museum’s downtown home, which was highly contentious. The building was approved in a fast-track fashion by way of a lawsuit settlement between the city and developers who had proposed a mixed-use building on the site that council previously turned down.

The case was settled, and she ended up raising over $120 million and commissioned Pritzker Prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban to design and execute the 33,000-square-foot structure.

“It’s not a secret that it was a big fight to get this project done,” Zuckerman told the Daily News.

News of Zuckerman’s exit from the helm also comes a month shy of the museum’s premiere summer benefit, ArtCrush, and less than six weeks before a celebration that looks to commemorate three AAM milestones: Five years in the new building, 15 years of ArtCrush and 40 years as an institution. The museum’s “whole celebration” will commence at 5 p.m. on Aug. 10 as a 24-hour event — a tribute to the new building’s inaugural opening in 2014 that also spanned 24 hours. 

“That was my idea,” a proud Zuckerman said of the 24-hour concept. She reminisced on the 2014 opening celebration — and the Tibetan monks who blessed the building about an hour before — fondly. 

“It was so moving and unexpected and magnificent,” she said of the monks’ blessing.

Zuckerman stayed at the museum for all but three hours during its 24-hour opening — leaving around 2 a.m. on a “beautiful, warm night” and returning at 5 a.m. for a sunrise yoga session.

At the Aspen Art Museum, Zuckerman managed an annual operating budget of more than $7 million and supervised a staff of 65, her LinkedIn profile states. Prior to her tenure at AAM, Zuckerman served as contemporary curator at the University of California-Berkeley Art Museum and curator at the Jewish Museum in New York. Her annual salary at the Aspen Art Museum is $766,352, according to records from the city of Aspen. 

Speaking at an Aspen Business Luncheon six weeks after the new museum opened its doors in 2014, Zuckerman said: “I’ve always said I don’t come to work to make friends, I come to work to do my job — and that’s clearly the case in Aspen. And that’s OK.”

The board will establish a director search committee to begin looking for Zuckerman’s successor.

Erica Robbie is the arts and entertainment editor for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at erica@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @ericarobbie.