Selecting the Ideal Museum Director

The most important task of the board of any museum is to select its director, as Willard L. Boyd pointed out in Curator: The Museum Journal 38/3. Unfortunately in recent times, there have been some serious mistakes made by boards in the selection of the director: the Los Angeles Museum of Art selected a director who was asked to leave after nine months in office; the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum selected a director only to see that director resign under a cloud of controversy before his starting date; and two years ago the Walters Art Gallery selected a director who was fired between the time of his announcement and his starting date.

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There are less egregious examples of museums that have selected directors who were “just not the right fit” and other examples of newly selected directors who, while effective in their previous positions, did not exceed the expectations of the board, staff, and the community in their new positions. These startling cases are unfortunate and indicate, among other things, that the selection process is not one without challenge. The museum profession is abundant with leaders of talent, professionalism, and dedication. In my experience, the ideal director for each museum does exist and can be selected.

Searches often involve people with complex personalities. There is no formula that will guarantee, scientifically, that the ideal candidate will be selected. However, the board and the selection committee can take steps to help assure that the search is successful, that a superior individual is chosen as a director, and that the director’s tenure is distinguished by measurable success.

Each museum offers its own challenges. Each director who is effective at one institution may not be effective at others. The challenges of one museum may require a director with a particular skill set that is wasted and not useful in another. Even among collecting institutions, funding structure, the strength of the board and staff, the state and size of the collections, the condition of the building, and competition are all factors that determine the skill sets required of the director.

In previous blog posts, I discuss three key elements to ensuring that the museum will find an ideal director: analysis, assessment, and evaluation.

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James Abruzzo, Consultant, Consulting, Executive Search, Nonprofit Compensation, Expert Witness, Museum Director

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