Walters names associate director

Sellers Markert, recently of Hartford, starts next month

January 24, 2003|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Kate Sellers Markert, the former director of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Conn. -- whose abrupt resignation last year triggered weeks of turmoil on its board of trustees, including six more resignations -- will return to the Walters Art Museum as associate director for external affairs and operations.

Markert, 50, will oversee the Walters' finance, development and marketing departments. In addition, she will carry out a strategic analysis of the board's operations. She was given a two-year contract.

Walters director Gary Vikan praised Markert as a valuable addition to his management team.

"She's very strong in how museums work, very organized and good with people, a great manager and a consummate development person," Vikan said. "We will have the strongest team possible."

Yesterday Vikan shrugged off reports of a dispute between Markert and the Hartford museum's board.

"It's a difficult situation there," Vikan said. "That board is going through a rocky period."

Markert, who begins work at the Walters Feb. 13, will report directly to Vikan.

"I will be talking to board members, learning what the most important issues are and helping them focus on the big picture while making their meetings as effective as possible," Markert said in an interview yesterday.

She will work with Vikan and the trustees to evaluate and refine the board's current composition and practices, museum officials said.

"Ensuring strong leadership for the future is one of the most important issues facing non-profits today," said the Walters' incoming board president Bill Paternotte. "While the Walters has always been distinguished by having a strong board that works effectively with the museum's staff, we need to ... explore ways for the board to be even more effective."

"Kate brings broad knowledge of art museum governance from her positions at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Wadsworth, and she has specific experience of the Walters and the Baltimore community from her many years here," said current board president Robert Feinberg. "She already knows many of the board members, and we are looking forward to working with her again."

Markert became the first female director of the Wadsworth Atheneum, the nation's oldest public art museum, in November 2000, but served less than two years before announcing her resignation Oct. 2.

At the time she said the impact of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York, which she witnessed while in the city on museum business, led her and her husband, Francis Gavin Markert Jr., to want to live closer to relatives in the Baltimore area.

In December, however, six members of the Wadsworth's board, including its president, resigned after an acrimonious meeting apparently triggered by Markert's departure. Markert has offered no further comment on her decision to leave.

The turmoil on the Hartford board seemed especially significant because the museum is in the midst of a $120 million expansion program.

According to published reports, the dispute among the Wadsworth board apparently erupted after some members complained they had not been given crucial information about museum operations -- including the reasons behind Markert's resignation -- by the executive committee.

Some board members also charged they had not been warned about a brewing conflict between Markert and the board president.

Before becoming director at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Markert was deputy director and acting director of the Cleveland Museum of Art from 1995 to 2000. She served as deputy director and director of communications and development at the Walters from 1987 to 1994.

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