Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Cleveland Museum of Art: A mess is spilling over

Ok, so I don't know that I have much to add to the "discussion" on the topic but I do need to vent a bit, especially with the 'facts' as they seem to be unfolding.

From the rather abrupt resignation of the museum's former director for "personal" reasons it was clear something was up, and it was disingenuous of the museum board to even half-heartedly attempt to cover it up. In fact, knowing some of the players in the story something didn't really feel "right" starting near the end of March and certainly after the unfortunate demise of one of the key players in this unfolding saga.

I am more than a bit, erm, pissed at the moment. Of the three Directors of the Cleveland Museum of Art that I've known since moving to Cleveland, David Franklin was the first that I respected -- and the first that I sense respected all patrons more or less equally. Of course, that respect has evaporated.

Timothy Rub was, during the tenure that coincided with my living in Cleveland was uninspiring and not particularly charismatic in my experience -- at museum events I definitely got the sense that he wasn't interested in acknowledging, much less talking to a patron unless he or she brought a significant amount of money to the table. He seemed absolutely ambivalent about engagement, particularly engagement in "my" demographic. I was not sad to see him leave for Philadelphia.

Deborah Gribbon, as interim director following Tim Rub's departure likewise didn't really inspire -- but as an interim director, staying the course and not making any radical departures from the norm during their term is expected -- in effect, serving as a trustee for the next director.

David Franklin, however, was very approachable and engaging including helping to champion both research and writing among curatorial staff and a number of innovative projects like Gallery One and Column and Stripe -- an organization working on engagement for 'my' demographic and brought to fruition in no small part through the efforts of the other key player in this drama.

When the resignation was announced, thus, I was disappointed -- we finally had a director that I wanted to see stick around for a while, and while I had my suspicions that something was amiss, I couldn't imagine it was this significant.

So I hope that the next director will share many of the same positive qualities that I perceived of Mr. Franklin while having much better discretion. Though it seems many are eager to blame the underlying relationship issue entirely on the man, it takes two to tango. Enough said.

What has me even more pissed off is how incredibly poorly (and dare I say unethically) The Plain Dealer has handled this story -- failing to disclose the conflict of interest posed by having their publisher on the board in the original story, naming the (deceased) other party to the "scandal", and dragging her family into it without adding any value to the story, and just plain idiotic soundbytes from the museum's board. Add to that, the way some museum staff have been approached for comment strikes me as just a little creepy. It's like reading a mashup of the worst parts of Fox News and MSNBC combined.

Anyway... I hope that the museum's search for a new director yields an engaging, passionate, individual quickly who can see the museum through it's impending centennial and ensure the museum's reputation as a world-class center for art and research is restored and strengthened. I am eager to see the museum put this unfortunate episode (or rather mini-series) behind it.

(Revised October 25th to add clarity)

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