Nannette V. Maciejunes remembers the first time a Columbus Art Museum visitor asked her the proper distance to stand from a painting while viewing it.

It took the executive director a minute to realize the question was not a joke-and helped her understand just how intimidating museums are to some people.

"That was an aha! moment," said Maciejunes, 57, who lives in Granville and took the museum's helm in 2003. "We set out to change that-a day at a time, a person at a time."

She's hopeful that a recently completed $6.9 million renovation of the facility (showcased in this issue's fashion spread; see sidebar) will increase its appeal even more.

"Adults don't want to be put in a position where they might embarrass themselves," Maciejunes said. "You have to create a situation where people feel open to explore."

And just as there is no set distance from which to view a painting, she's discovered there's no set formula for running the museum, which is widely recognized for its late nineteenth and early twentieth-century American and European modern art. She approaches her job like she would a painting-studying it from different angles and listening to what others have to say.

"She's multi-faceted," said Wayne Lawson, who serves on the museum's board of trustees. "She's intellectual. She has leadership and curatorial abilities. You don't have just one aspect to define her."

Maciejunes has deftly used her talents to achieve her goal of increasing the profile of the museum locally, nationally and internationally, said Denny Griffith, president of the Columbus College of Art & Design. "She's blown the doors of the museum open in a lot of healthy ways," he said. "She's so enthusiastic, so well-spoken, so comfortable out in the community."

Maciejunes, who graduated from Denison University and Ohio State University, considers museums kin to libraries and wants visitors to feel an ownership of great works. "Very few of us are going to own a Monet, but together we can own them," she said. "There are seven of them here."

She has helped Central Ohio recognize the quality of its collection by organizing exhibits that showcase its prize pieces. The museum in 2005 organized "Renior's Women," the first exhibit ever to focus on Pierre-Auguste Renoir's representation of women. An exhibit of Edgar Degas' landscapes a year later brought attention to Houses at the Foot of a Cliff (Saint-Valry-sur-Somme). The museum highlighted a work by Claude Monet in a 2007 exhibit. "People could see how good our pictures are," Maciejunes said. "They would remember our pictures looked fantastic in these shows."

She also is quick to point out that many items in the collection are sought after by other museums around the world. Among the new displays created during the renovation is a light-hearted one that showcases the travels of Edward Hopper's Morning Sun, the museum's most-loaned work. "It's much more well-traveled than me," she joked.

Maciejunes' personality plays a big part in her success, said Milt Baughman, interim president of the Greater Columbus Arts Council. "She's a lot of fun," he said. "Nannette brings a wealth of the experience and enthusiasm and energy for the arts that is great value for everyone." She also has "one foot firmly planted in the future," which adds to her ability to run the museum, Baughman said.

It's a credit to Maciejunes and the board of trustees that the museum was able to plan and start a multi-phased renovation during an economic downturn, he said. "The whole community is going to be better because of that," Baughman said.

Making a difference outside of art is a passion of Maciejunes, who serves as a board member or volunteer for nonprofit organizations including Columbus Art Commission, Columbus Cultural Leadership Consortium and the South Side Settlement House.

She was recognized in 2009 by the YWCA Columbus as a Woman of Achievement. Yvette McGee Brown, founding president of the Center for Child and Family Advocacy, praised Maciejunes for her efforts.

"She is a leader in her field," McGee Brown said, "and someone who recognizes that we all benefit from our collective culture and sense of community."