Photo by: Amy C. Elliott of The 2012 participants in the Center for Curatorial Leadership program
From Good to Great, for Curators
By HILARIE M. SHEETS
Published: March 14, 2012
FOR two immersive weeks in January, 11 curators selected from museums large and small gathered by day at the Center for Curatorial Leadership in New York for classes taught by professors from Columbia Business School in topics from endowment management to moral leadership to organizational alignment — subjects entirely absent from the typical education of a museum curator.
By night, they were schooled by a cross section of institutional trustees and directors. Leonard A. Lauder, chairman emeritus at the Whitney Museum, offered his practical dos-and-don’ts for how to conduct oneself when being interviewed for a directorship. Glenn D. Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art, rattled them with the kinds of budget situations that plague him every day, challenging them to come up with their own solutions.
The Center for Curatorial Leadership was conceived and opened in 2007 by Agnes Gund, a cultural philanthropist involved in numerous director searches, and Elizabeth W. Easton, a former curator at the Brooklyn Museum. Their goal was to give curators management skills and perspective that would help put them in the running for directorships and other leadership positions in the field, especially as museums have become ever larger and more complex businesses.
“It’s a way for curators to learn how to become more a part of the whole picture and not sequestered as the mandarins that they are often considered,” said Ms. Easton, also former head of the Association of Art Museum Curators. She recognized the distress felt by colleagues wanting to cross the divide to management but lacking the training and the confidence of the people making the hires.
Now with a five-year track record, the program has far outstripped her initial expectations, with more than 60 percent of the 41 graduates having been promoted to positions of greater leadership, including five directorships.
The most prominent of these appointees is Gary Tinterow, who was named director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in December. Mr. Tinterow participated in the inaugural year of the Center for Curatorial Leadership while a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“It prepared me, to the extent that anything could, by helping me think analytically about how a director’s job is fundamentally different from a curator’s job,” he said on the first day in his new office in January. “Although some of the same skills are necessary to succeed in both positions, the perspective of a museum director looking after the health of an entire organization, being the interface to the external community while supporting and working with the internal community is very different than a curatorial position where one is advancing a discrete set of goals — acquisitions, exhibitions, maybe a department.”
Other program graduates who have moved to director from curator include Silvia Karman Cubiña, now heading the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach; Kevin Salatino at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Maine; Kristina Van Dyke at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in St. Louis; and Michael R. Taylor at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth in New Hampshire.
“There are all these people who might not otherwise have become directors who have become directors because one, they understand what was involved and got excited about the possibility, and two, they had a skill set that enabled them to rise above other candidates,” said Mr. Lowry.
Each curator in the program is paired with a director from another institution as a mentor for the six-month program, as well as for a one-week residency at a different museum.
Mr. Lowry advised Christophe Cherix, his own curator of prints and illustrated books, to take the program in 2010 before promoting him to chief curator of the department.
Colin B. Bailey, deputy director of the Frick Collection, was promoted from associate director after going to the Center for Curatorial Leadership in 2008. He said he didn’t think it would have happened if he hadn’t had the experience of the program.
“You’re seen often with great respect for your expertise and scholarship, but if you are in a position as I am to manage 25 people in different departments, this gave me a sense of how to manage them better and it also gave my peers the sense that I had been interested enough and engaged enough in these issues to take a course,” he said. “You speak differently when you come back.”
Every year the group does a six-month project, and this year the current participants, who include Martha Tedeschi of the Art Institute of Chicago and Stanton Thomas of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, are each creating their own mentoring project.
“Everyone will have been wonderfully mentored themselves, and I want them to go back and mentor in their communities,” said Ms. Easton. That could mean selecting people within their own museums and bringing them onto the curatorial track or finding those as young as high school who have an interest in museums.
“I’m convinced that the best way to diversify the leadership track in museums is to have curators serve as mentors,” she continued. “We want the program not just to be about the personal career advancement of the curators but really feed the profession in important ways.”
Click here for the original New York Times article.