From time to time I will move the better posts from my old blog, at times adding material as I see fit. This is one such transplant. First, I should add to the list of museums that will soon be without a Director: Thomas W. Lentz, Director of the Harvard Art Museums, will be stepping down at the end of the academic year in 2015. Now, on with the original post:
With so many art museum Directorships coming open I thought it might be good to look at the process of selecting a Director. Let’s pretend you want to apply and, more important, that you have the necessary qualifications to be interviewed. The list below covers many issues that either you or the Selection Committee should address. Some of these things will only be touched on, to be delved into in detail should you be hired, but it’s best to reach the beginnings of an agenda for your Directorship before you get hired. Some of these points are touchy, and cover topics that ought to be addressed, even though people are reluctant to do so. There is a difference between telling Boards and candidates what they need to hear as opposed to what they want to hear. That gap can cause problems later on.
AAM/AAMD – how does the museum stand with AAM (American Association of Museums) and AAMD (Association of Art Museum Directors)? Is accreditation up-to-date? Any concerns voiced by either institution concerning the museum?
Clarify the Director’s job. Many museum Directors are also CEO, but this is not universal. This is tied into…
Museum by-laws. Candidates should be given a copy before they are interviewed. If there’s something in the by-laws that is confidential, that’s a problem. Transparency is important, especially at the most basic levels of museum governance.
Board composition – how are Trustees/Governors chosen? How willing is the Board to consider candidates who are not local/regional figures, but (say) major art collectors?
Does the Board have a code of ethics and/or ethics committee? Remember that in dealing with Boards, you are often working with people who have little experience in the operating of a museum.
Current roster of major donors, and list of former donors who might be re-engaged. Also list of those considered lost causes. Donors who were personally close to a director or curator but are now distant because that person left. Much of this will come after hiring, but, again, be upfront and make sure both sides know that this will be discussed. Are personal issues set aside for the greater good of the museum?
Recent loan history – are loans made to support the educational mandate of the museum, or have pieces been rented for money? This connects with the AAM/AAMD relationship.
Board willingness to change institutional structure. Does some other museum function better behind the scenes? If so, why?
Institutional history – issues and discussions in the past aren’t much use if nobody remembers them. Are there any long-time employees who have facts at hand?
Current exhibition schedule and past history. Notable exhibits of the past.
Current financials with past 10 years documented, perhaps more if any major issues appeared in the last decade.
Community outreach – a constant in museum operations. This will likely be considered in depth after a Director is hired, but starting the discussion (and seeing what Board members think/feel about it) cannot come too soon. Included in this is the relationship(s) with local schools. Are kids getting to college without ever hearing of your museum? That should be unacceptable.
Relationships with other institutions, art museums or otherwise. Any local/regional relationships of special note? Then move to national/international. Again, relationships that have dwindled due to the departure of staff/board members must be considered.
Relationships with city/state gov’ts. Does the museum employ a lobbyist? Gov’t representatives on the Board?
Relationships with the press. Social media is not a substitute for good coverage in local newspapers/TV, or with the art world press. A museum communicates on multiple levels.
Physical plant issues/plans – this is an obvious one. A good museum will show its candidates through the basement, the offices, the whole deal, and be upfront about ongoing issues.