Jill Medvedow, the longtime director of the Institute of Contemporary Art, is stepping down in December 2024. She's been at the helm since 1998, transforming it from a small museum with 10,000 annual visitors to around 310,000 today.

She has been, as GBH News’ executive arts editor Jared Bowen put it, “really the dean of museum directors in our region.”

“This is very, very significant for many reasons,” he told Boston Public Radio Wednesday. “Her legacy is just huge.”

When she joined the ICA, it was situated in a former police station in Back Bay with small galleries. In 2006, Medvedow was a driving force behind the $62 million facility in Seaport. The iconic glass building became "the first new art museum in Boston in nearly a century," according to ICA Boston.

Then, in 2018, just across Boston Harbor, the 15,000-square-foot ICA Watershed was opened with a new exhibition every summer free to the public. 

“She doesn’t do a lot of small talk because she wants to launch right into the issues. And for her, the issues are arts education,” Bowen said on Boston Public Radio Wednesday. “This is why the ICA has partnered with the Boston Public Schools, bringing teens into art making and exposing them to arts. 

“But also ... she’s always had this philosophy of radical welcome. She wants to make sure that everybody knows: not only are they welcome but she wants to really draw people into that museum,” he said. 

Medvedow spearheaded art awareness programs directed at young people. Annually, around 6,000 youths are educated in the arts thanks to the programs, often at no cost. This mission earned her a 2012 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program award from the White House.

“I think Jill Medvedow is one of the most underrecognized, underestimated and under-celebrated museum leaders,” Helen Molesworth, the museum’s chief curator from 2010 to 2014, told The New York Times. “And if she was a man, she would have been feted all over the place for her accomplishments.”

As the museum grew under her leadership, so did its collection — especially, according to Bowen, many works by women artists and artists of color.

While Medvedow hasn’t shared any specific next steps, she told multiple outlets that she plans to stay involved in civic life.