They're still trying to fill Arnold Lehman's shoes ISO: Do you like coaxing money out of people? Do you have a fine eye for art? Are you interested in a six-figure salary? Boy, does the Baltimore Museum of Art have a job for you.

September 17, 1997|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,SUN STAFF

Wanted: Energetic leader with the sensibilities of an art connoisseur and the track record of a successful entrepreneur. Candidate should be a people-person with "backbone," a diplomat, educator, innovator, financial whiz, lobbyist, fund-raiser and visionary.

At least that is how the Baltimore Museum of Art describes its ideal as it hunts for a new director.

A 12-member search committee has been looking for Arnold Lehman's replacement since he announced in March his plans to resign after 18 years to head the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York. In the interim, the post of acting director is being filled by deputy director for administration Kathleen Basham and deputy director Brenda Richardson, who is also curator of modern painting and sculpture.

"We are moving along very well, but we aren't going to hire someone just to hire someone," says Constance Caplan, chairwoman of the search committee, which includes trustees and former trustees. "This is a terrific job and a terrific opportunity."

Packets of information about the museum were sent this summer to job applicants, she says. Each candidate received the search committee's description of qualities it was seeking, the museum's financial records, exhibitions schedule, grant applications and five-year plan. Each candidate also has visited the BMA.

"We didn't start out with a list," Caplan says. "We added names, interviewed people, and made some decisions along the way about whether they could fulfill our requirements, but the process is still continuing."

Field trips

Search committee members now are conducting site visits to the institutions that currently employ the remaining candidates. "These are more serious site visits. That's the second stage," says the committee chair.

Caplan declined to give further information on the status of the search, but other knowledgeable figures say that the committee hopes to announce its choice before the end of the year.

Since the 1979 arrival of Lehman, who began his new job this month, the BMA has added two wings and two sculpture gardens; more than doubled its attendance, to 350,000 visitors a year from 150,000; and dramatically increased its endowment, to $48.5 million from $1.5 million. During his tenure, the BMA's annual operating budget also grew fourfold to nearly $9 million.

At the beginning of his final fiscal year in Baltimore, Lehman was earning a base salary of $178,500, according to museum records. That amount falls in the top 25 percent of salaries paid to directors of museums with budgets in the $7.5 million to $10 million range, according to a 1997 survey conducted by the Association of American Art Museum Directors of its 176 member institutions. (Nationally, the highest salary paid in this category is $225,000 and the lowest is $144,085.)

But museum directors generally earn substantially more than their stated salaries, through housing subsidies, travel budgets for spouses, deferred compensation plans or education funds for their children.

"Every museum is different," says Mimi Gaudieri, executive director of the AAMD, a New York-based professional organization. "On top of annual salary benefits, additional benefits could total 20 to 40 percent more. So if you have a $100,000 salary you might have a package that is worth $140,000 in benefits. But again, it depends on the institution."

Other positions

Nationwide, directorships are open at nine other American art museums, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Detroit Institute of Art and Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art.

In the museum world, that number isn't particularly high: In 1994, for example, there were 20 vacancies at institutions from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

"One of the problems that museums are facing today is that an awful lot of really talented folks who could be superb directors are not going into museum work. They are staying in academics or are writing books or curating [doing] shows," says Milton Esterow, editor and publisher of ARTnews, a national monthly magazine.

"One retired director told me, 'I don't want to spend the majority of my time raising money.' And most directors or would-be directors didn't study art history to go after funds."

Nonetheless, many consider the director's job at the BMA an excellent opportunity. "Arnold's legacy is an outstanding one, RTC and someone will be very pleased to be offered the job," says the director of another large metropolitan museum, who requested anonymity.

"Within the profession it is regarded as a really good position, with a terrific community, good location, wonderful collection and a good board. From the outside, it looks like a great job."

In its search, the BMA is relying on the head-hunting firm of Heidrick & Struggles, a New-York based company that has recruited executives for institutions ranging from Brown University to the Frick Collection. It also led the Brooklyn Museum of Art to Arnold Lehman.

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