Met Museum Changes Leadership Structure

2017-06-13 10:21:02

 

Met Museum Changes Leadership Structure

In a striking leadership reorganization, the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Tuesday announced that Daniel H. Weiss, its president and chief operating officer, will lead and run the museum, filling the new, higher-ranking role of president and chief executive.

And in a sign that fiscal responsibility now trumps artistic control, the museum’s next director, who oversees programming, will report to Mr. Weiss, rather than the other way around.

At a special board meeting on Tuesday morning, the trustees voted that Mr. Weiss — a 60-year-old medieval scholar and former president of Haverford College who joined the Met two years ago — will assume leadership of the museum, effective immediately.

“He has worked hard, he’s gained the confidence of the board, of the curators, of the executive staff — he is the natural person to lead and run the museum at this time,” said Daniel Brodsky, chairman of the board of trustees. “There is really no one else to consider other than Dan.”

Mr. Weiss will also now play a role in choosing a new director to replace Thomas P. Campbell, who resigned under pressure in February. Mr. Weiss became acting chief executive officer after the resignation. The next director will report to Mr. Weiss and lead the museum’s “core mission functions,” the Met said, including the exhibition and acquisitions programs. Both will serve on the board, and together they will establish the museum’s priorities.

This hierarchical shift appears to be an effort to avoid the perceive leadership missteps of Mr. Campbell, who held the titles of both director and chief executive and who leaves his post at the end of this month. The change also acknowledges the challenges of running a museum in a time of increasing competition among cultural institutions for philanthropic dollars and public attention.

Mr. Campbell, though an accomplished former tapestry curator, is widely seen as having failed to recognize a ballooning budget deficit, adequately prepare for an ambitious building expansion or unite the staff behind his agenda. His resignation announcement came after months of growing concerns among staff members and some trustees about its financial health and his capacity to lead the largest museum in the country. His financial decisions and expansion plans had been criticized by some trustees, curators and other staff members.

Having studied its organizational structure over the last three months, the museum’s board members concluded that the future health of the Met’s management required a new approach, with Mr. Weiss at the top.

Some people close to the process said that the board’s move also enables the Met to hold onto Mr. Weiss, who is widely considered a stabilizing force who has led the Met through a period of financial struggle and low morale. If he had been passed over for the directorship, or had grown impatient trying to govern on a provisional basis through a lengthy search, Mr. Weiss might have left the institution.

There are some people both inside and outside the Met who speculate about whether Mr. Weiss had designs on the top job all along, something he has long denied. Several art world executives, for example, have questioned Mr. Weiss’s decision to sound the alarm about a looming $40 million deficit, which contributed to a sense of a museum in crisis. Having brought the deficit to its current $15 million after buyouts, layoffs and other cost-cutting measures, Mr. Weiss now appears to have saved the day.

A number of people inside the Met say that Mr. Weiss made clear to the board after the financial revelations last year that he could not continue to work under Mr. Campbell in the long term, which helped accelerate the board’s decision to urge the director out the door in February.

Mr. Weiss, however, said he never gave the Met any ultimatum. “I said I want to be able to contribute meaningfully,” Mr. Weiss said in a telephone interview. “If they were going to bring in a new director to whom I would be reporting, that would have to make sense. I don’t want to be reporting to someone who is out of their depth.”

While Mr. Weiss is well-liked by staff members and trustees, he is not an obvious choice to lead the Met. A slight, bespectacled man with a Ph.D. in Western medieval and byzantine art and a master’s degree in art history, both from Johns Hopkins, Mr. Weiss comes out of academia and not art institutions.

He arrived at the Met in March 2015, after two years as president of Haverford College. Before that, he served as president at Lafayette College — where he also taught art history — and as dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins.

In addition, Mr. Weiss has an M.B.A. from the Yale School of Management and early in his career spent four years as a management consultant at Booz, Allen & Hamilton.

Still, running the Met has been Mr. Weiss’s largest assignment yet, given its annual operating budget of $316 million, staff of 2,200 and endowment of nearly $3 billion. In the fiscal year before Mr. Weiss left Haverford, by contrast, the college’s annual budget was just over $83 million and its endowment $491 million.

The appointment of Mr. Weiss on what is essentially the business side of the museum allows the Met to focus on hiring a director with curatorial heft. But some people inside the Met are concerned that it essentially demotes the director to the role of chief curator and could make attracting heavyweight candidates difficult.

Mr. Brodsky said that given the size and prestige of the Met, the director’s job should be appealing to several formidable candidates.

“It really takes two people to run this institution,” Mr. Brodsky said. “Someone who is afraid to report to someone else may not be the right person for us.”

Mr. Weiss also said he was confident that the director would feel sufficiently empowered, likening the role to that of a university provost. “They’re going to have a full portfolio of responsibility that’s consistent with what a director does,” he said.

Mr. Weiss added that it could be “liberating” for a director not to have to worry about day-to-day matters like security, restaurants and maintenance. And he described himself as “very good at collaborating.”

“I am not territorial, and I don’t need to be the center of institutional attention,” Mr. Weiss said. “I want somebody who can fully inhabit this role with my support.”

Indeed, at Mr. Campbell’s final media breakfast briefing in the museum’s Temple of Dendur, on May 31, he called Mr. Weiss “a brilliant partner.”

Still undetermined is whether Mr. Weiss will take over Mr. Campbell’s Met apartment across from the museum at 993 Fifth Avenue. It is worth millions of dollars and is part of the director’s compensation package, which was about $1.4 million in 2015, according to the most recently available tax forms.

“There needs to be a good argument for why we have it,” Mr. Weiss said.

The Met has long grappled with its leadership structure. When Philippe de Montebello became director in 1977, he reported to the president, William Macomber, and later William H. Leurs. When Mr. Leurs retired in 1999, the board added chief executive to Mr. de Montebello’s title, and David McKinney reported to him as president, succeeded later by Emily Rafferty.

Mr. Weiss said he was grateful for the opportunity to take on additional responsibilities and to guide the museum. “This place is so extraordinary,” he said. “Even on a tough day, I’m very inspired to be here.”

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