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Djerassi Director to Retire

In his 14 years at Djerassi Program, O'Leary brought the program to international prominence and significantly diversified and increased and increased the program's artist-in-resident representation in areas of ethnic and geographic origin

The Djerassi Resident Artists Program Executive Director, Dennis O'Leary, announced at a recent Board of Trustees meeting his decision to retire after 14 years in this position. O'Leary said he would remain in the position into the summer to assist with the transition to new leadership, to oversee the completion of the Diane Middlebrook Memorial Writer's Residence currently under construction, fulfill already scheduled public programming, and complete the panel-review selection process for 2012 artists-in-residence.

Board of Trustees Chairman Rodney Pearlman announced that a search committee will be formed and the process to select a successor for O'Leary will begin immediately.

"Dennis has been the Executive Director of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program for almost half of its 31 years and we are truly grateful for all his contributions," Pearlman said. "Dennis has played a significant role in the growth and quality of the program. He is a tireless advocate, bringing not only professional expertise and a breadth of knowledge to the position, but also a passion for the program and the many artists it has supported over the years. We all owe a lot to Dennis and will definitely miss him and his wife, Catie."

O'Leary came to the Djerassi Program in 1997 from the Boise Art Museum in Idaho, where he had been executive director for 16 years. He began his career in the 1970s working in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's Education Department, running the art school and managing special educational and performing art events when the museum was in the War Memorial Veterans Building on Van Ness Avenue. He has MFA and BA degrees in art from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

In his 14 years at the Djerassi Program, O'Leary brought the program to international prominence. He widely broadened the application pool geographically and in overall numbers, receiving nearly 800 applications from artists worldwide in 2009. In so doing O'Leary significantly diversified and increased the program's artist-in-resident representation in areas of ethnic and geographic origin. Internationally he participated in ResArtis, the international network of artist communities, developed residency exchanges with three European programs, and partnered with the UNESCO bursary program to annually host an artist from a developing country. O'Leary has also been active in the residency field in the United States, serving on the Board of Directors of the Alliance of Artists Communities from 2002 through 2008, where for a time he co-chaired the Member Services Committee, helping to advance the quality of residency experiences throughout the country. He was instrumental in forming a California consortium of artist residency programs - Visions from the New California - which, through the administration of the Alliance of Artists Communities and funding from The James Irvine Foundation, has collectively supported the work of under-represented California visual artists since 2004.

When he first came to the Djerassi Program, O'Leary was active in finalizing the Conservation Easement - a program jointly entered into with the Peninsula Open Space Trust - which was finalized in early1999 and protects the program's property in perpetuity. It also established a Lands and Building Endowment, which helps support the program's operations. The program has operated profitably throughout O'Leary's tenure, with major multi-year grants being received from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and The James Irvine Foundation. The program has also consistently received substantial annual recognition and support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

While with the Djerassi Program, O'Leary was responsible for numerous capital improvements including the renovation and reroofing of the 19th century "Old Barn" into an open space for artists to work, experiment and perform. He oversaw the renovation of the 10,000 square-foot Artists Barn, bringing it to current code-compliant standards of safety and accessibility. He has been instrumental in bringing the new Diane Middlebrook complex of four new artist studios into existence, which will allow the program to increase its support of artists by 50 percent.

Most notably, while O'Leary has been director more than 1,000 artists have experienced the "gift of time" that the Djerassi Program provides artists of all disciplines from around the world - all free of charge. In 2000 O'Leary initiated Winter Residencies, which allow alumni artists to partake in various-length, project-driven residencies at its SMIP Ranch facilities, which supports about 25 artists annually and brought the program to a year-round calendar of activity. That artists consistently extol the virtues and values of the Djerassi Program is what makes O'Leary most proud. "Being able to advance the work and career of artists of all disciplines from across America and around the world, of all ages and career stages has been the joy and reward of this position," O'Leary said. "I couldn't have been happier or more privileged to work in this capacity for so long, with extraordinary support from the board and staff. But now it is time to try new ventures, reenter my own creative practice and leave the future of the Djerassi Program in other worthy hands."