Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Seven tips from the top

Victoria Stapley-Brown, Seven tips from the top: essential job advice from US museum directors, The Art Newspaper, 9 February 2016

Seven tips

Author Michael Shapiro quizzed his peers. Photo: Chip Simone, 2015. Source: The Art Newspaper.

How do you become a museum director? That’s the question behind a new book of interviews—Eleven Museums, Eleven Directors: Conversations on Art and Leadership—by Michael Shapiro, the former director of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Published by the High and available on 1 February, the book contains interviews with some of the highest-profile museum directors working in the US today, including Gary Tinterow of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Timothy Rub of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The book, which Shapiro hopes will inspire and guide future museum professionals, could not have come at a better time. More than one-third of directors are aged 60 or over, according to a survey of 150 US museums that was published by the Economist last year, and the field is preparing to welcome a new generation. Here is the best advice fr om the interviews, which Shapiro conducted between October 2014 and July 2015.

  1. Don’t make a beeline for the corner office

“The quest is to become a great art historian, and if you have the right temperament [and] skill set, maybe you get drawn into museum work, you get drawn into institutional leadership, but I would never recommend beginning by thinking you want to be a museum director.”

  1. Listen to artists

“You cannot be a contemporary art curator if you just spend your time looking at objects. You have got to engage deeply with artists, and sometimes you have to see yourself as an active co-conspirator with the artists you work with.”

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