Kris Wetterlund, inspiring us all

A good educator leaves their mark. On one person or a classroom, an institution, and sometimes an entire profession. Educators guide people down new paths and reveal truths that once seemed incomprehensible. They share their own experiences in order to learn from the past and improve on the future. They interpret the world and make it easier for the rest of us to understand. And, of course, they inspire.

Kris Wetterlund

It’s no surprise, then, that Kris Wetterlund, an educator of the highest order, who retired from The Corning Museum of Glass in the fall of 2020, left her mark on those she worked so closely with, and even those who may never know the ways they interacted with Kris’s work.

Kris joined the Museum in 2014 and served as director of education and interpretation. Although her time at the Museum was short it was impactful. With more than two decades as an art museum educator, spanning multiple countries from the US to Europe and China, Kris brought a level of experience that helped develop a reimagined Education Department. Kris efficiently built a new team of young educators around her who will continue to pursue the high degree of excellence she insisted upon.

Kris is a fierce advocate for her staff, her colleagues, her profession, and her ideas. She led with authority and passion. She is a kind, attentive, and thoughtful listener who has the innate ability to understand what you are saying and respond with curiosity, insight, and the occasional challenge. Kris was not afraid to push when pushing was needed. By challenging her colleagues and peers, Kris helped us all to learn and grow, to think outside the box, to develop and explore our own passions, and to realize how we can all better the Museum at the same time.  

Externally, Kris’s influence can be felt in the masterful interpretation of each major exhibition during her tenure, as well as educational programming, object labels, and overall planning for the future of the institution. But internally, too, Kris left an indelible mark. Kris was key to the development of several new initiatives at the Museum, including the Writers Group and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Matrix Team. The DEI Team has, under Kris’s guidance, grown tremendously and established a strong foothold with which to better the Museum and its role within the greater community. The DEI Team has since conducted the Museum’s first-ever Equity Audit, from which was developed CMoG’s Equity Statement. Her initiatives helped ensure the longevity of the Museum’s involvement in MLK Day celebrations, participation in Corning’s inaugural Pride event in 2019, and formed collaborative relationships with Corning youth and LGBTQ+ communities as well as regional Native American communities.

Kris’s impact will remain with us for many years to come. With the staff she has coached and inspired, through the conversations she has brought to the table, the exhibitions she has so thoughtfully contributed to, and with the programs she has shaped.

Kris assisting with a Pride tour of the Museum’s galleries, 2019.

Close colleagues and friends that have felt Kris’s indomitable spirit over the past six years have shared their thoughts and memories as we celebrate her retirement. With so many proud achievements for Kris to remember, we recognize she leaves behind large shoes to fill.

Karol Wight, president and executive director, Corning Museum of Glass

“When Kris joined our staff, she brought with her a professional career steeped in museum education and its evolution. Under her guidance, her dedicated staff set a course to steer the education department toward a new purpose at our institution, and in so doing, they became interpretive partners to the entire staff to help them further their work. I am proud of the work this entire team has done and how well they are regarded in the Museum and beyond our walls. And of equal importance, Kris was a member of our Leadership Team and offered perspective and guidance on a number of issues, but most notably the work the Museum has been doing to further diversity, equity, and inclusion at our Museum. I am thankful for her partnership in this important work.”

Alan Eusden, chief operating officer, Corning Museum of Glass

“I deeply appreciated working with Kris, because of her enormous strength as an educator, her strong leadership, and her absolute willingness to take on anything or anyone which did not make sense to her! She especially demonstrated that willingness in her advocacy for equity and inclusion and in her unwavering drive to make sure that every person is respected, supported, and valued. I almost always enjoyed our conversations, which were deeply direct and honest, and often resulted in my learning something new or having a greater appreciation for the unintended consequences of words and actions. Although I miss Kris already, I wish her all the best in retirement and am reassured that she remains connected to our community.”

Kris (left) and the Education Department enjoying a fun moment, (left to right) Olivia Khristan, Troy Smythe, Evan Hill, Mieke Fay, and Serena Testone.

Mieke Fay, manager, education and interpretation, Corning Museum of Glass

“I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Kris. I knew her by reputation in the museum education field prior to her joining our staff, and I got to know her personally when she became my supervisor. Kris was an amazing role model and mentor who encouraged open communication and empowered her staff to do their best. She led by example, advocating for her staff and for the power of museums as places of informal learning. I will miss her strength and presence and I wish her all the best for a long and happy retirement.”

Troy Smythe, education and interpretation supervisor, Corning Museum of Glass

“I have learned many important things from Kris, like, one should pack good coffee when traveling, there is a proper way to cook every kind of squash, and a correct way to say “bag” (bāg). For Kris, excellence has always been worth the trouble. There was a time when I would ask her what experiences I “must-have” when I visited a place. I stopped doing that after a trip to Madrid. Kris insisted I seek out the tastiest lemon butter cookies in the world made only in the basement of a small medieval church in the old part of the city by a group of Carmelite nuns who had taken a vow of silence. With some vague landmarks to look for and the assurance that it would be obvious where to enter I spent the better part of a morning just looking for the church. The doors were unmarked. Using a variety of cookie-eating gestures, I managed to tell a patient woman what I was after and she led me to a door in the back. Inside was a maze of dark hallways that didn’t smell anything like cookies. I skulked around in silence until I found another door, with a small Lazy Susan built into it and a sign above with the number 5 scrawled on it. I put 5 Euros on the Lazy Susan and slowly turned it so that it would be inside the room on the other side. In a few seconds, it whirled back again bearing a flat and neatly tied white box filled with cookies. I intended to save some cookies for my husband John who was working at our hotel. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of opening the box on the steps of the church, and before I knew it, had eaten every single one. They were as good as promised and worth every bit of the trouble. As I have learned from Kris, excellence always is.”

Olivia Khristan, school services educator, Corning Museum of Glass

“Working beside Kris transformed my understanding of what an inclusive leader is. She actively seeks to learn and understand perspectives that differ from hers. She is transparent and inclusive and listened to all voices in the room and elevated the voices of those who historically may not have had a seat at the table. I continue to respect her steadfast ways and unwavering drive to hold people accountable and challenge the status quo.”

Kris with a young visitor during one of the Education Dept’s. family friendly events.

Kathryn Aguilar, science educator, Corning Museum of Glass

“Working with Kris was great. When she hired me, I had zero experience working in museums. She was a patient mentor and encouraged me as I was learning the ropes. I will always remember running an idea by her to get her opinion about whether something would work or not, and having her reply, “Try it!” Kris’s leadership style allowed me to grow into my role without having to worry about being perfect all the time. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with her and learn from her.”

Evan Hill, education programs coordinator, Corning Museum of Glass

“It’s a hard task, to sum up the time spent working with Kris. Under her direction, the Education and Interpretation Department was able to foster a culture of change and learning through creative problem-solving. As a supervisor, Kris helped shape my professional outlook with her integrity, agility, and empathy. While her influence will be missed across the Museum, I wish her every happiness in retirement.”

Scott Sayre, chief information officer, Corning Museum of Glass

“After over 25 years of working with Kris, I will deeply miss her unique talent for understanding and learning from audiences and diverse communities, challenging museums to consistently question their assumptions and test the actions to assure they remain relevant and impactful.”

Asterilla Monteiro, former Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Team intern, Corning Museum of Glass

Asterilla (back left) with Kris (center) and the rest of the Education Dept. during her internship.

“Working with Kris was, without a doubt, one of my favorite parts of my internship at CMoG. Her passion for championing change was palpable in every discussion, meeting, and project I had the absolute pleasure of working on. She stressed the value of pushing hard and the importance of failing and learning from those failures. She inspired me and gave me the confidence to speak out and offer my opinions. Kris knows how to bring the absolute best in each member of the team while making each person feel their absolute best. She is a relentless and courageous leader with an impeccable way of tackling professional tangles, who exemplifies the values of the Museum. I will always be grateful for her mentorship and everything she taught me that will help me in my career for years to come and always put my best foot forward.”

Maketa Wilborn, consultant

“Kris is one of the most powerful and direct people that I have ever worked with. Those traits, combined with her unrestrained passion and commitment to equity for women and people of color have made her one of the best thought partners that I have had the pleasure of conspiring with. She does not shy away from challenging work and, in my experience, she is willing to ask for the help that she needs to move that work forward. Kris cares for the work and for the people engaging it. Her care for me and my well-being, as a black man leading DEI work in a historically white organization, within the white-dominated field and culture of museums, is the reason that I think fondly of her not as a client, but as a friend.”

Kris and Maketa enjoy a sefie at the Museum.

Hannah Jones, Corning Pride Council

“Kris was one of the first members of the Corning Pride Council. She came in as a strong ally and spearheaded our relationship with The Corning Museum of Glass. Kris has a dedication to social justice work and making Corning a welcoming community for all identities. Corning Pride is thankful for her passion to help our LGBTQ+ community.”

Randi Korn, consultant, Learn With Us

“Kris’ dedication to the Museum is evident in her pursuit of achieving impact with visitors. She knew that achieving impact required strengthening and even changing the Museum so it can achieve impact. Her work was relentless as she talked about impact-driven ideas across the Museum. Fortunately, most heard, listened, and saw the virtue of what she was trying to do. She can retire happy, as impact-driven thinking is now part of the Museum’s DNA.”

Learn more about Kris in her official Museum biography.

Kris’s last day at the Museum was Friday, September 6, 2020.

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