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Dr. Kelly Baum worked at The Met in New York City — now she runs the Des Moines Art Center

As the Des Moines Art Center celebrates this milestone, patrons might notice a new face: Dr. Kelly Baum stepped into her role as director this past May.

DES MOINES, Iowa — An iconic Des Moines staple is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year: the Des Moines Art Center. 

Known for its collection of contemporary and modern art, the Des Moines Art Center is currently in the midst of its 75th anniversary campaign, with the hopes of maintaining and enhancing the center's reputation for years to come. 

As the center celebrates this major milestone, patrons might notice a new face: Dr. Kelly Baum stepped into her role as John and Mary Pappajohn Director this past May, replacing longtime director Jeff Fleming. 

"The Art Center is turning 75 years old this year, and past staff, directors, curators, educators, board members, they have all laid the groundwork for an incredible future," Baum said. "I see my role here at the Art Center, joining in 2023, as the person who helps realize all the promise that previous generations have built into the Art Center." 

While Baum is new to Des Moines, she is no stranger to the art world. Baum comes to the city from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she worked since 2015. Baum has held curatorial roles at four different museums over the course of her career, curating or co-curating almost 30 exhibitions.

While the Des Moines Art Center may not carry the same level of name recognition as The Met, Baum believes working at a mid-sized museum has its benefits. 

"The Des Moines Art Center might be less well known, but it's much more nimble, much more responsive," Baum said. "There's really less that stands in the way of getting really exciting work done."

Since she got her start as a curator, Baum has dedicated herself to uplifting artists of diverse backgrounds, a passion she hopes to continue in Des Moines. 

"I'm very excited to say that the curators and educators and staff of the Art Center have already been investing their time, dedication and resources to diversifying the collection and also the program," she said. "So we were aligned before I arrived, and that makes my work very easy." 

Although Baum has only been on the job for a few months, she already feels "overwhelmed" by the dedication of staff members, the board and the community. In fact, she tells Local 5 that passion and generosity is one of the reasons she took the job in the first place. 

"I have been struck by the spirit of philanthropy that pervades all of Des Moines," Baum said. "I've come to understand that if you live in Des Moines, and you have $1, you give $1. If you have $10, you give $10 ... there's a real spirit of service in this city."

The new director hopes to maintain a "robust curatorial program" for years to come. 

"I want to make a point of bringing to this Art Center in Des Moines some of the most exciting artists and exciting exhibitions from around the country," Baum said. "I want to introduce evermore interesting and important artists to the community."

Baum also says she is committed to ensuring the center is accessible to all, emphasizing the importance of free admission at a time when museums across the country are raising entrance fees. 

"You can walk in the door without paying a penny, you can attend a lecture without paying $1," she said. 

Baum encourages Iowans to visit and support the Des Moines Art Center in any way they can, whether it's by visiting the galleries, attending lectures, becoming a member or volunteering. 

And for people visiting from out of town, Baum urges them not to underestimate the center, now at 75 years old.

"I would tell the person visiting from out of town that Des Moines has one of this country's, not [just] the state's, but this country's strongest museums of contemporary art," she said. "They will be amazed what they can find here in Des Moines. It's on par with what they can find in D.C. and New York and Boston and LA."

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