PRINT September 1998

US News

the museum director search

The art world did a double-take in late May when it was announced that Robert Fitzpatrick—former CEO of EuroDisney and current dean of Columbia University’s School of the Arts, he had no museum experience—would become director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. The story behind the hiring, though, is fast becoming a familiar one: Fitzpatrick was matched with the MCA board through the services of Nancy Nichols, comanaging partner of the not-for-profit unit at executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles in New York.

As art institutions scramble to fill a large number of vacancies, HEADHUNTERS with specialty callings like Nichols, Malcolm MacKay of New York–based Russell Reynolds, and Toni Smith of Spencer Stuart in Chicago are in demand. According to the Association of Art Museum Directors, there are currently nineteen US museums searching—and competing—for directors, including the New Museum in New York, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Dallas Museum of Art. LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art just joined the list, as longtime director Richard Koshalek will be departing next summer.

Nichols didn’t exactly set out to become a headhunter: the art historian and former university vice president fell into her job while being recruited herself. (In addition to the Chicago job, she helped the Whitney select Maxwell Anderson as director, an appointment announced as Artforum went to press.)

“You cannot keep recycling the shortlist of likely subjects,” Nichols says. “The expectations of a museum are more wide-ranging these days. It’s not just your traditional scholar/curator who is going to fit the bill.”

William Harris