FotoFocus leaders transitioning

FotoFocus, the 12-year-old Cincinnati nonprofit dedicated to championing photography and lens-based art, announced that its founding executive director — Mary Ellen Goeke — will retire at the end of 2022.

Goeke will be succeeded by Katherine Ryckman Siegwarth, the leader of the organization’s signature program, FotoFocus Biennial.

Katherine Ryckman Siegwarth will succeed Mary Ellen Goeke as the executive director of FotoFocus.

The transition is marked by the organization’s rapid growth, as it plans to build a new center for photography and lens-based art in Greater Cincinnati that will ensure the region’s continued education and celebration of the medium.

In her 12 years at the helm, Goeke shepherded FotoFocus from a grassroots collective of photography supporters to an organization esteemed for its year-round, public-facing programs and collaborations with internationally-acclaimed artists and curators.

Goeke’s approach and vision for programs like the Biennial and its symposium have allowed the organization to maintain the integrity and risk-taking of its founding mission while growing to collaborate on increasing numbers of projects with artists, curators and participating venues.

Highlights of her tenure include the development of FotoFocus as a grant-giving organization, including the distribution of over 1,000 grants to support artistic venues presenting projects and educational programs that increase the public’s understanding of photography and the world around us.

“Mary Ellen instilled a sense of collaboration that has allowed FotoFocus to remain remarkably agile through its growth over the past twelve years,” said Maureen France, FotoFocus’ board president. “She has been an exceptional leader who has dedicated herself to this organization. Thanks to her curiosity and responsiveness to the expanding field of photography, FotoFocus has steadily increased its regional, national and international presence.”

France and others said they look forward to building on Goeke’s legacy.

“The founding vision for FotoFocus was to elevate the reputation of Cincinnati as a global focal point for photography, in partnership with the many regional organizations exhibiting lens-based art,” said Bruce Halpryn, former FotoFocus board president. “Mary Ellen’s leadership allowed that vision to expand far beyond what we initially thought possible. Looking toward the future, it is a great pleasure to welcome the appointment of Katherine Siegwarth as executive director, on the heels of her direction of the largest Biennial FotoFocus has ever seen. She will undoubtedly strengthen and grow ties to regional arts organizations even further, and help to provide a greater platform for underrepresented voices in photography finally coming to the fore.”

Siegwarth joined FotoFocus in late 2021 as Biennial director, acting as primary liaison for over 100 participating venues and helping bring ambitious exhibitions to life.

Previously, Siegwarth served as a curator at the Dayton Art Institute, where she curated exhibitions related to their encyclopedic collection, including exhibitions presented during previous FotoFocus Biennials, such as Ravaged Sublime: Contemporary Landscape Photography in the 21st Century; Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs and tête-a-tête; and Archiving Eden: Dornith Doherty Photographs.

Prior to the DAI, Siegwarth was the assistant director of Zhulong Gallery, Luce Curatorial Fellow of Photography at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and held positions at the Center for Creative Photography. Siegwarth holds a master’s degree from the University of Arizona and is a graduate of the Museum Leadership Institute’s leadership program for the next generation of museum leaders.

“It has been a pleasure serving under Mary Ellen for the last year and I am honored by the opportunity to lead the next chapter of this remarkable organization,” said Siegwarth. “I look forward to working collaboratively with my colleagues at FotoFocus and with our regional partners as we develop future Biennials and envision year-round programming with the creation of the FotoFocus Center.”

Siegwarth assumes leadership of the organization in January.

Since 2010, FotoFocus has collaborated with organizations, curators, academics and more than 1600 artists and participants to present over 750 exhibitions and programs. FotoFocus has awarded close to 600 grants to support partners presenting projects and educational programs that are accessible and engaging to the public. In April 2020, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, FotoFocus pledged part of its 2020 Biennial budget to financially support more than 100 participating venues and partners in the region’s art community.

Signature FotoFocus programming includes the Biennial, which took place October 2022 with the theme, World Record. Past editions have presented work across the Cincinnati region by historic and contemporary artists including Berenice Abbott, Eugène Atget, Roe Ethridge, Zanele Muholi, Karl Blossfeldt, Francis Bruguière, Thomas Ruff and Akram Zaatari. Other events include the symposium, which has contributed significant dialogue and insight to culturally relevant topics including the controversial Mapplethorpe exhibition, and a lecture and visiting artist series, which has brought globally renowned artists like Zoe Leonard and William Wegman to Cincinnati.

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