The creativity and artistry at the NIU Art Museum comes in many forms, thanks in part to Director Jo Burke.
While visitors are the ones ultimately treated to a diverse array of offerings at the museum’s home in Altgeld Hall, Burke has used her own artistic magic to curate shows that highlight various genres, styles and themes. She’s enjoyed the flexibility to experiment and reinvent the museum in ways that continually appeal to art enthusiasts within the university community and throughout the region.
“I’ve had the privilege of a lot of freedom,” said Burke, who has been director for 10 of her 20 years with the museum. “I think there’s so much potential here. It’s always surprising (to people) what they can see when they come in.”
Burke’s long-standing dedication to making the NIU Art Museum a unique destination while also supporting arts in the DeKalb area – which includes helping to secure$1 million in external funding for programs and other community art projects – recently earned her a Supportive Professional Staff Presidential Award for Excellence.
“Jo’s consistent contributions to NIU’s arts and cultural scene have supported NIU’s strategic initiatives every day that she has come to work,” said Lynne Thomas, associate professor and Head of Distinctive Collections for NIU Libraries. “She creates strong, sustainable connections between our campus and community through the art museum’s exhibitions, programming and outreach.”
Burke – who has her Master’s in Art History from NIU – highlights as one of her favorites a nature exhibition that included John James Audubon prints along with contemporary art works, and cases full of taxidermy specimens. Working with students and their unique perspectives is “one of the joys of the job” in what she calls a “wonderful career.”
The museum’s assistant director, Peter Olson, has been right there to see it all happen.
“For over 20 years, Jo and I have worked together at the art museum. In all that time, she has been committed 100 percent to the success of the museum, its programs and the university,” Olson wrote in a nominating letter. “NIU is extremely lucky to have her. This recognition is well deserved and long overdue.”