CAC picks museum vet with deep Midwest connections to serve as new curator

The Contemporary Arts Center is bringing in a well-traveled museum veteran with roots in the Midwest to serve as its new curator.

Theresa Bembnister comes to Cincinnati from the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, where she has served as curator since January 2022. She began her career in Little Rock as the museum’s associate curator in August 2020.

With the CAC, Bembnister will lead the development of a new exhibition strategy for the museum that builds upon its decades-old tradition of pushing the envelope in the world of contemporary art.

The CAC is in the process of celebrating its 20th year in its current location, the seven-story Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art – the first project designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid in the United States.

Bembnister’s first day in her new role is Oct. 31.

Theresa Bembnister
Theresa Bembnister

Describing her decision to take the CAC position, Bembnister called it a “unique opportunity” that she “couldn’t pass up.” A graduate of Case Western University in Cleveland and the Kansas City Art Institute, she considers curating contemporary art in the Midwest as “familiar and important to me.”

“Add to that the CAC’s national reputation for its forward-thinking and boundary-pushing exhibition program, with values of social justice and equity in accessibility,” she added. “It all aligns with my curatorial goals of cultivating memorable, collaborative, and relevant creative experiences for the community.”

The CAC conducted a rigorous national candidate to fill the open role, according to Christina Vassallo, the museum’s executive director. While there were many qualified candidates, Bembnister stood out to the search committee, Vassallo said, because of her “ability to express her values through her exhibitions, her curious mind, and her reputation for hard work and integrity.”

Christina Vassallo

At the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, Bembnister played a key role in establishing the institution’s state-of-the-art new space. Her work included the installation of the inaugural permanent collection of more than 14,000 items and the addition of accessible and equitable labels to displays. She also assembled a forthcoming publication about the years-long construction of the museum’s new building and its historic MacArthur Park grounds.

Prior to her time in Little Rock, Bembnister spent five years at the Akron Art Museum. There, she began as associate curator before being promoted to curator of exhibitions. Her legacy in northeast Ohio includes curating Open World: Video Games & Contemporary Art,” a technology-driven exhibition. Beyond attracting a new audience to the museum, the project also incorporated extensive community outreach and partnership development.

Bembnister also received credit for her role in the development of AAM’s digital tour guide, Dot, which takes visitors on a sort of choose-your-own-adventure-style tour of the museum’s collection galleries.

Other positions on Bembnister’s resume include associate curator of the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art in Manhattan, Kan. and art and writing curatorial fellow with the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition. Professional experiences beyond the museum world include journalism, public relations, graphic design and fundraising.

“[Bembnister’s] qualities will serve her well as she curates experiences that resonate with the CAC’s many different audiences and embody our mission of bringing art and the creative process to all people,” Vassallo said.

Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) in downtown Cincinnati.