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“Personal Reasons” Revealed: Steve Litt’s Detailed Report on Cleveland Museum/David Franklin Mess

Steven Litt, art and architecture critic of Cleveland Plain Dealer

Steven Litt, art and architecture critic, Cleveland Plain Dealer

In my previous post on David Franklin‘s Sudden Shocking Exit from the directorship of the Cleveland Museum, I observed that “speculation (informed or otherwise) may run rampant” because of the vague “personal reasons” cited by the museum as the cause for this highly inopportune departure, so close upon the December opening of the museum’s new Rafael Viñoly-designed West Wing.

Speculation and fragmentary information did indeed run rampant in the “Comments” section for the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s initial article on Monday and in subsequent reports in Cleveland Scene.

Now the indispensable Steve Litt of the Plain Dealer, who unfairly took a lot of heat from Cleveland Scene writers and Plain Dealer commenters for not rushing to print with more details about Franklin’s “personal reasons,” has just posted his illuminating full report on this sad, sorry saga and the museum trustees’ response to it.

Like most journalists, I’m a firm believer in the public’s right-to-know. But I’m uneasy about the Plain Dealer’s decision to expose so many intimate details of this tragic situation. This may help to sell newspapers, but it doesn’t necessarily serve the public interest. I’m particularly uncomfortable with the public identification (complete with photo and a link to the funeral-home tribute page) of the woman who figured in this. (I declined to use her name and tribute page link after they were leaked to me on Tuesday, along with fragmentary information about what had allegedly transpired.)

I’m more interested in what lessons, if any, are here for museums. Character counts, especially for the top official. That said, extramarital affairs are probably at least as common in the museum profession as in the general population and don’t necessarily impact job performance.

But the Cleveland trustees should have realized that the sensational details of this particular story, memorialized in a police report (which is public information), all but insured that more details about the “personal reasons” would soon come out. While it’s arguable whether this was a failure of hiring, the handling of Franklin’s departure, with the benefit of hindsight, was a public-relations failure because the trustees let others get ahead of them in defining the story. An understandable attempt to be discreet and to put this unfortunate episode behind them caused the trustees to be perceived as being engaged in a coverup.

It’s a debacle, however you look at it. But Cleveland is a great museum, both because of its superlative collection and because of the great directors who have previously led it.

I don’t wish this on Detroit, but the indispensable Graham Beal has “said he would have to be dismissed before art was taken.” If the unthinkable forced sale of the Detroit Institute of Arts’ masterpieces in connection with a city bankruptcy were to occur, the Cleveland Museum would be a suitable reward for Detroit’s valliant warrior.

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