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Crystal Bridges’ Administrative Turnover: Director’s “Promotion” Follows Exodus of Top Curatorial Officials

Crystal Bridges, in more tranquil times

Crystal Bridges, in more tranquil times
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

In my mental file cabinet of future stories, this one was at the top of my to-do list—a detailed post on the brain drain from Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Now a surprising press release has hit my inbox. It tries to put a positive spin on Crystal Bridges’ future, but instead suggests even more administrative turmoil may lie ahead:

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Board of Directors and board chair Alice Walton have promoted Crystal Bridges Executive Director Don Bacigalupi to the newly created position of president and appointed him to Crystal Bridges Board of Directors. The board has also promoted Crystal Bridges Deputy Director for Operations and Administration Rod Bigelow to executive director. Both promotions are immediately effective.

In his newly expanded role, Bacigalupi will serve as a member of the board of directors and will advance the Museum’s national and global special initiatives and work closely with the board and staff leadership. Bigelow will assume oversight for day-to-day operations of the Museum.

Bigelow, whom I also met at the museum, was the money man. He’s the one who brought me a copy Crystal Bridge’s tax return, which I had requested (and analyzed here). As the deputy director of operations and administration, Bigelow was in charge of finance, facilities, grounds and trails, IT, security, human resources, culinary and retail activities. Now it appears he’ll assume Bacigalupi’s former role, overseeing exhibitions, acquisitions and other art-related activities. An art professional who knows him has told me today that Bigelow has “no curatorial, museum education, or art history experience.”

In a strong indication that all is not well in Bentonville, three of the four senior curatorial staffers whom I interviewed during my visit in November 2011, shortly after the museum opened, have left the building. Only one, Kevin Murphy, the curator of American art, still remains:

CrysCur

Two former members (and one remaining member) of Crystal Bridges’s curatorial team, outside the museum’s library
Left to right: David Houston, former curatorial director, Matt Dawson, former deputy director for art and education (both gone), Kevin Murphy, current American art curator
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Here’s the other departed curator, who was first to leave:

Chris Crosman, founding curator, in the museum’s restaurant

Chris Crosman, founding curator, in the museum’s restaurant
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

My guess, from what I’m hearing, is that there may have been some curatorial frustration over the exhibition program, which is heavy on shows borrowed from other institutions, rather than projects planned by home team. Future exhibitions include a Norman Rockwell show organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum and Angels and Tomboys (scroll to bottom), organized by the Newark Museum. I had heard that Bacigalupi may have been planning a biennial show of contemporary art—his specialty. I don’t know where that idea now stands.

I knew that something was up when Murphy, to my astonishment, retweeted my “What gives?” Tweet from Jan. 25:

CrysTweet

I have a query in to Crystal Bridges for more information, including clarification of Bacigalupis’ and Bigelow’s respective new roles and Bigelow’s art creds, if any.

When I know more, you’ll know more.

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