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Leaked Release: National Academy’s Feel-Good Statement on Carmine Branagan’s Departure

The chaotic, unprofessional rollout of the National Academy’s leadership transition (which I chronicled in the above-linked posts) continues with today’s anonymous leak to me of the very overdue, nearly finalized press release, to be issued on Monday (subject to approval by key board members).

In it, the Academy’s president, Bruce Fowle, expresses the institution’s “accept[ance] with regret and appreciation” of Carmine Branagan‘s resignation from its directorship (a month-old story that I broke).

Carmine Branagan, director of the National Academy, posing in 2011 in front of Asher B. Durand’s “The Morning of Life,” 1840 Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Carmine Branagan, director of the National Academy, posing in 2011 in front of Asher B. Durand’s “The Morning of Life,” 1840
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Dewey Blanton, the Academy’s director of communications and public relations, confirmed to me today that the leaked document was genuine and largely complete, but it is still subject to minor adjustments and to the approval of key board members.

As I reported on Oct. 15, Maura Reilly, the Academy’s recently hired chief curator, has been interim director since Oct. 5, although this was not publicly announced. On Nov. 5, as I noted on Twitter, her status on the institution’s online staff directory was quietly changed to interim director.

The Academy has repeatedly declined to answer my questions about the reasons for Branagan’s departure and the state of the institution’s finances. I had heard strong rumors that the institution had ended fiscal 2015 with a deficit.

Branagan had assured me in a 2014 interview that the fiscal 2015 budget would be balanced, reversing the deficits of previous years.

As you can see from this report on Guidestar, the red ink had flowed in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2014:


The Academy’s IRS Form 990 that will report results for fiscal 2015 is not yet available. Blanton also told me that there is no audited financial statement yet available for that year. He could not answer my question as to whether there was a surplus or deficit, although surely the Academy has some sense of that, nearly five months after the close of the fiscal year.

My educated guess is that there’s a lot more to this unstable situation than is expressed in the leaked statement, whose laudatory tone (including a direct quote from Branagan) probably needed to be approved by all parties in the interests of an uncontested termination agreement.

The biggest surprise to me is the release’s revelation that “Branagan will remain affiliated [in what capacity?] with the National Academy through March 2016, to assist in the transition to new leadership.” I suspect that it’s going to take longer than that to find a new leader to set a stable course, and that Maura Reilly may eventually make the transition from interim to permanent director (as Branagan herself previously did).

Here are some excerpts from the leaked release (with my comments in italics):

Building on the Academy’s mission to celebrate, collect, and educate the public about American art and architecture, she [Branagan] has led the charge to enrich the membership of elected Academicians—currently totaling over 400—as well as to enlarge and enhance the collection of over 7,000 works [after notoriously diminishing it], and reconstruct the School with a more relevant and broader curriculum….

Branagan, who became director of the National Academy in 2008, said, “It has been a profound privilege to lead the National Academy. I feel that I have achieved the goal of preparing the institute for future growth and expansion. It is time to begin the transition to new leadership as the Academy heads toward its bicentennial.”

Branagan has been instrumental in creating a culture of philanthropy within the Academy community [but did that “culture” result in increased donations?] that has been key to its future success. In 2012, she oversaw the rehabilitation and alteration of the Acadcmy’s facilities at 1083 Fifth Avenue….

The National Academy Museum has also grown in recent years, as evidenced by the current major exhibition, Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie, indicative of a renewed emphasis on architecture that Branagan had championed.

The statement begins by praising Branagan for having “stabilized operations.” To the extent that this is true, it came at the price of the deplorable deaccessions (a story that I broke) that marred the beginning of Branagan’s seven-year tenure. (Blanton today assured me that there have been no further art disposals to fund operations or defray debts, and that none are planned.)

Whether the National Academy’s operations have indeed “stabilized,” notwithstanding the evidence of this jittery transition, will become more apparent in if and when it operates with greater transparency under new leadership.

an ArtsJournal blog