Innovative Directors of American Museums

[caption id="attachment_1854" align="alignnone" width="577"]The lobby of the Asia Society’s New York headquarters at 725 Park Avenue. Image by Frank Oudeman. Courtesy of Asia Society. [/caption]

How is the deep recession affecting the museum world? Many—or, shall we say, most?—museums are downsizing staff, programs, and otherwise cutting costs. Curiously, there is also a high turnover rate among museum directors. How is it possible, then, that some museums are growing, building, expanding, and smartening-up their priceless collections? Several museum directors on our list point out that now is the time when we should turn to the arts to give us solace and pleasure; now is the time when new art infrastructures and programs stimulate economic and cultural growth in their communities.

The directors we’ve chosen are changing American museums by creatively addressing shrinking endowments, by embracing diversity, by attracting new and younger audiences, and by validating new technologies and art forms. In fact, most of the directors on our list are builders who have recently supervised or are presently supervising the construction of light-infused architecture or new outdoor sculpture parks. They are transforming their indoor and outdoor spaces, using bright concepts of design, conservation, restoration, and installation. Of course, this calls for creative fundraising. In some cases, great patrons are stepping forward.

Just as photography was once outside the bounds of museum spaces, these directors have added film, performance, installation, and technologies. At the same time, stewardship of ancient art from cultures around the world is more important today than ever before. Civilizations often track their histories through their artifacts, and these earliest mysteries and visions of life have much to teach us. In this vein, innovative museum directors give new life to—and fight for—freedoms we can never take for granted.

Now, on to career highlights for each director and their answers to one question: Given the economic downturn and global strife, what are some aesthetic, financial, and cultural issues you’re addressing at your institution?