Choosing an art gallery director

How to get it wrong – or right

There’s a story in the Los Angeles Times that has implications for the management of all public art galleries, large and small.

Christopher Knight makes many hard hitting points, and I agree with all of them.

There are far too many sad tales around boards of management of arts organisation, including public art galleries, of board members who just do not get it when it comes to the roles of their CEO and their curators.

As the author says:

Trustees often have their own ideas of where they want a museum to go, including what they want to exhibit and collect. Sometimes they attempt to run the institution with the director as their chief of staff.

Their job, however, is not to run the place but to stand back at arm’s length and have the museum run by pros. It’s a complicated and even awkward task, especially for wealthy and powerful individuals who are used to getting their way.

I could list many organisations that get into trouble because of this flaw in the knowledge of board directors (or trustees).

A big point made in this LA story is that good curators do not always make for good directors. It is a different skill set.

The best outcomes can be the appointment of a director with current curatorial experiences, in fact they may still curate the occasional exhibitions. The problems arise when the director does not fully appreciate or respect the roles of curators as a profession – and worse still if they take such curatorial roles away from the curators.

And in the case of this LA example, this seems to have been a big issue – resulting in the firing a senior curator earlier this year. And now the director has been called out on this.

The issue for many art galleries could also be the board itself. Does the board really have the combined skill set and knowledge to know what their organisation really needs in a good director?

Many boards get this wrong and the artists and the communities involved often pay a heavy price. This happens far too often.

Here’s the story in the LA Times – click here.

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