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AAMD’s Response to Metropolitan Museum’s Renegade Reorganization: “Guidance to Consider”

In last week’s post—Metropolitan Museum as Renegade: Reorganization Defies AAMD’s Professional Standards—I noted that Met President Daniel Weiss‘ designation as his museum’s CEO, with the yet-to-be-named new director as his subordinate, ran contrary to the professional guidelines (P. 5) of the Association of Art Museum Directors. I also predicted that AAMD’s reaction to the Met’s going rogue would be to ignore it.

I was right.

Here’s the answer that I received today from AAMD’s executive director, Christine Anagnos, to my query about what, if anything, our country’s leading professional organization for art museums would do about “what seems to be a clear violation of your ‘Governance’ guidelines”:

Museums operate with different types of leadership structures. AAMD provides guidance on these structures for museums to consider as they define leadership roles [emphasis added].

Lori Fogarty, director & CEO of Oakland Museum, CA, and AAMD’s new president

In other words, museums should take AAMD’s “guidance” into account, and then decide whether or not to follow it. The only guideline that AAMD has seemed interested in enforcing over the years is the one stipulating that proceeds from sales of works of art “may be used only for the acquisition of works.”

If you legalistically parse AAMD’s language about museums’ appropriate administrative structure, you can see that, technically, there’s some wiggle room:

The board should [emphasis added] appoint the director…to be the chief executive officer of the museum.

In legalese, “should” doesn’t carry the same prescriptive force as “shall.”

Even if AAMD gives the Met a pass, there could be consequences to violating protocol: A strong, experienced art museum director—the only type of candidate whom the Met should consider—may balk at accepting a “demotion” from his or her accustomed CEO status, especially one that makes the director second-in-command to a museum neophyte.

In my last post, I quoted the 1999 New Yorker profile of then Met director Philippe de Montebello on the subject of museums where directors have been subordinates to presidents, with unfortunate results. A CultureGrrl reader and ex-museum director (not de Montebello or Graham Beal) reminded me of another example—the failed marriage at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art between president and CEO Andrea Rich and director Beal, who went on to lead the Detroit Institute of Arts with great distinction.

Former Detroit Institute of Arts Director Graham Beal (and me)

Like Weiss (formerly president of Haverford College), Rich was an administrator at an institution of higher learning (UCLA), but lacked museum experience.

Directing the Met is a great gig and Dan Weiss is (I still believe) a great catch. With a lot of careful planning, this unorthodox administrative structure could work…at least temporarily, while the foundering Met rights and repairs its financial ship.

The big-picture question is: Why should any museum take AAMD’s professional standards seriously, when they’re so malleable, and infractions (except for those involving deaccessions) are largely ignored?

an ArtsJournal blog