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Jan Driesbach

After nearly seven years of running the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s art museum, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery director Janice Driesbach decided it was time for a change.

Thursday, Driesbach announced her resignation effective Sept. 20 — almost exactly seven years after she came to Lincoln from the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, Calif.

“I’m approaching a stage in my life where my mother and my husband’s father are becoming older and more frail, and I’m starting to think about what things I want to do in my life,” Driesbach said. “I think in many ways the strengths you bring to a position are in the first six or seven years.”

Driesbach began thinking about leaving at the end of last year, she said. Her resignation came as a surprise to Sheldon staff and UNL administrators.

There was no pressure on Driesbach to resign from the university or the Nebraska Art Association, the Sheldon support group, NAA president Rhonda Seacrest said.

“When she came here, there were lots of challenges, and she had the skills and the will to overcome them. All her NAA evaluations that I have done, and I have seen, have been excellent. This is all driven by her.”

In large part because of Driesbach’s fundraising skills, the NAA’s contribution to Sheldon — which pays for much of the fundraising and programming — grew from $50,000 a year to $900,000.

“The Sheldon had lost its accreditation when she first came here. The building was a disaster,” said Herb Howe, associate to UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman.

“She didn’t raise the state funds. But she managed that absolutely superbly. It couldn’t have been better. I have nothing but the greatest respect for the job she’s done at Sheldon. As I told her, I will give her one very strong recommendation.”

That recommendation may not be for a museum job, Driesbach said. Her oldest daughter graduated from college and is working with refugee resettlement in Louisville, Ky. That has Driesbach thinking she might want to apply her fundraising skills in another area.

“It could be something that doesn’t have an art part of the job, as long as I could keep art as a part of my life,” she said.

Driesbach said she and her husband John, an art professor at California State University, Sacramento, are planning to settle in the Midwest, close to their aging parents.

In the six months she will still be at Sheldon, Driesbach said she will work on ensuring successful ongoing fundraising as well as preparing for the transition, including encouraging qualified people to apply.

The university will begin the search soon, most likely using a search firm to recruit candidates, Howe said. That’s standard for positions like the Sheldon and Lied Center for Performing Arts directors.

A new director could be in place by early 2008, Howe said. Any decisions on an interim director will be made closer to her departure, he said.

The biggest issue for the new director will be the expansion of the museum, Howe and Driesbach said.

Driesbach said she believes the next director will find a museum with a strong staff, good facilities and solid funding.

“I hope it’s in better shape (than when I arrived), and I hope it’s in better shape 10 years from now,” she said. Reach L. Kent Wolgamott at 473-7244 or kwolgamott@journalstar.com.

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