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Future Leaders

August 18th, 2007

In the last couple of months, directors of at least four museums have resigned or announced their impending retirement and there is ongoing speculation about the possibility of Philippe de Montebello retiring from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (There is an interesting post on this by culturegrrl [Who Should Succeed Philippe at the Met? November 13, 2006 ) and I mentioned another article on this in a previous post.

In the USA Timothy Potts will leave the Kimbell Art Museum in September. Lisa Dennison (a 29-year veteran of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum who became its director less than two years ago), has resigned to join Sotheby’s auction house. In Australia, Kevin Fewster resigned in July from the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney to take the directorship of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich in Britain and Alan Dodge announced his intention to retire from the Art Gallery of Western Australia. In Britain Charles Saumarez Smith has resigned from the National Gallery in London to go to the Royal Academy. And all that follows of course the announcement some time ago of the resignation of Lawrence Small as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (though some would not consider that a museum position, relevant thought it is).

In The New York Times for July 29, 2007, Jori Finkel (“Impossible Job. Here’s What You Need for It”) noted that 24 of the 200 or so members of the Association of Art Museum Directors were in search of leaders in July, including the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The AAMD’s executive director observed that this was as great a number as some 20 years ago!

In the normal course of events this would be regarded as not unusual. The trouble is that not only is the museum community (or profession) not doing very much about succession, except for a few places where there are courses on leadership development, the nature of the job and the expectations for it have not varied in 20 years except that the demands placed on incumbents have grown. And the attitudes of boards and governments have not developed in the light of events. It is still a matter of wanting someone who will raise money and behave like a business person as well as be an expert on the content area of the museum, such as art history. And board members are no more inclined to understand what genuine support of executive staff means or even of what being a director of a non profit board is. Of course there are exceptions, or perhaps the troubling instances are exceptions. But they are sufficient to be a great worry.

One person who has studied this tells me that boards often appoint someone completely different from the previous incumbent; some museums continue to make the same kind of mistakes, others having to open the search process several times. As I have said, many boards simply do not understand what support of the CEO means.

Continue to essay.

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