Wolfsonian-FIU awaits appointment of new director

Adrian Suarez Avila
News Director

Members of the University community await the appointment of the next director of the Wolfsonian-Florida International University, a museum located in Miami Beach.

The previous director, Cathy Leff, stepped down in January of last year, following a 17-year term with the museum, according to previous reporting from Student Media.

The search for the next director is led by the Office of the Provost, with the ultimate decision of who becomes the next director falling into the hands of University Provost Kenneth G. Furton.

Among the members of the Search and Screen Committee are Sandra Gonzalez-Levy, the chair of the committee and senior vice president for External Relations, Michele Oka Doner, an advisory board member emerita, Regina Bailey, associate director of museum operations for the Wolfsonian, and Aurora Morcillo, a professor in the Department of History, according to the Office of the Provost’s website.

On Tuesday, March 31, the top three candidates for the position visited the University to explain their qualifications for the position and share their vision.

The three candidates that were up for evaluation were William R. Valerio, Min Jung Kim and Timothy Rodgers.

According to its website, the Wolfsonian–Florida International University is a multifaceted facility. A museum, library and research institution, the Wolfsonian houses art and other artifacts from the height of the Industrial Revolution to the conclusion of the Second World War.

It contains around 150,000 objects, and among these a variety of paintings, prints, furniture, ceramics, rare books and periodicals.

At present, it has an annual operating budget of $6.1 million, according to its website.

Among the responsibilities of the director are to provide intellectual and artistic leadership to ensure the success of the Wolfsonian’s mission. The director must also handle the fundraising initiatives of the museum, taking into account the overall management of its operations, which include the museum’s exhibitions, human resources and connection to the University.

William R. Valerio, is the Patricia Van Burgh Allison director and chief executive officer of the Woodmere Art Museum in Philadelphia, PA.

Valerio holds a master’s degree in art history from the University of Pennsylvania, and a doctorate in art history from Yale University in 1996. He served as the curator at Queens Museum of Art in New York.

Kim serves as the deputy director of external relations at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum in Michigan State University, and was part of the negotiation team with Deutsche Bank in the Guggenheim Museum.

Timothy Rodgers, on the other hand, has served as director of Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art for the past six years. And prior to that, he was the chief curator for the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe.

According to the description of responsibilities for the director position, the candidates must have a minimum of three to five years of experience with museum operations, leadership and governance, or at least leadership experience in a field with similar needs as a public arts organization.

The potential candidate must also hold a bachelor’s degree, and a strong commitment to art, design, and the specific mission of the Wolfsonian.

Among the concerns of the faculty members present at the candidates’ interviews was the candidates’ abilities to incorporate the active collaboration of University faculty members with the research opportunities of the Wolfsonian.

Kim admitted that, unlike the Wolfsonian, which takes a strong approach to research in addition to serving as a museum, the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum serves as a museum for the most part, not placing a strong emphasis on research.

Rebecca Friedman, a professor in the Department of History, admitted that several faculty members in the University would love the new director to strengthen the connection between the Wolfsonian and the University.

She added that the University needs a new director who will fight for resources, as well as faculty interaction, considering that the Wolfsonian is a great resource for the humanities at the University.

Kim cited various experiences working with faculty members at Michigan State University in order to help put together various exhibits and projects at the Broad, saying that the skills gained from these meetings are something she will apply with University faculty if given the opportunity to become the next director.

When prompted to speak on her fundraising experience, Kim cited her time at the Guggenheim working with Deutsche Bank and also with the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, a project that generated millions of dollars for the Guggenheim Museum.

According to her, she also has experience working with corporations and bringing in exhibition sponsorships.

Rodgers brought in different qualifications.

He commenced his discussion by saying that he is not the type person to impose a vision on a talented and ambitious group of people because it’s not going to lead to success, adding that he wants to work effectively with different types of people in order to come together and develop a shared vision so they can move forward.

Calling attention to the importance of a strategic plan, which the Wolfsonian revised in 2013, Rodgers said that when there is no director in place it’s hard to move a strategic plan forward and very hard to get necessary resources.

He mentioned that one of the most important parts of the Wolfsonian’s strategic plan deals with its real estate holdings.

Noting that the museum owns multiple buildings, Rodgers wants to consolidate efforts in the main building, removing adjacent properties that don’t have historical value in order to expand.

He also suggests moving parts of the Wolfsonian’s collection, particularly the library, to the University, considering the notion that he believes the collection will be safer away from the environment found near the Wolfsonian, which features salt air and other environmental factors that can potentially damage parts of the collection.

Although he knows that it will be hard for the museum to lose the objects, he believes that the potential relocation of artifacts will give the University an opportunity to maintain a connection to the Wolfsonian.

As such, University students, as well as faculty and visiting researchers, will have access to the collection and library.

“I think the Wolfsonian has the ability..to be real leaders in education [and] research,” said Rodgers.

He also spoke on the possibility of expanding the contents of the museum to feature jewelry, clothing from the Art Deco period, as well as photography, the vernacular kind in specific.

Student Media was not able to be present for Valerio’s portion of the interview.

Aurora G. Morcillo, a member of the Search and Screening committee, offered her thoughts on the search.

She admitted that the committee has been meeting since November, when the application for the position opened up.

Part of her responsibility in the committee is to submit to Provost Furton her recommendation for whom she believes should assume the directorship.

She said that all three candidates bring a varying set of strengths and weaknesses to the table, and noted that one of the things that Furton should take into consideration when making his decision is the concerns of the staff that the director will work with, as they will be in constant contact.

Provost Furton could not be reached by press time for comment.


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