Reports of new director appointment at SF arts museums follow critical NYT piece

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The NYT included a quote from a Fine Arts Museums trustee suggesting Board of Trustees President Dede Wilsey is "in control."

A report in the New York Times this past weekend highlighted troubles at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF), which were also outlined in twin reports in the Guardian two weeks ago. On the heels of that critical news story, reports are surfacing that the museums may be poised to announce the appointment of a new director after a 15-month gap in leadership.

The New York Times piece highlighted internal museum tensions, which staff members say have persisted since former director John Buchanan passed away at the end of 2011:

“For 15 months, since the death of John Buchanan, their last director, the museums have been without a leader. Longtime staff members have been ousted. Unhappy employees have leaked internal e-mails to embarrass management … Several trustees, major donors, former board members and staff members blame the powerful board president, Diane B. Wilsey, an art collector, philanthropist and a hub of San Francisco society, for creating some of the problems.”

This last point was underscored with a quote from trustee Denise B. Fitch, who told the New York Times "one person is in control." 

In a new twist, the museums may now be on the verge of naming a new director. Journalist and cultural commentator Lee Rosenbaum issued this report in a March 17 blog post:

“Someone with strong ties to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco told me today that he had it on good authority that Colin Bailey, who is deputy director and curator at the Frick Collection, New York, is soon to be officially named as director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. I have tonight confirmed this with an unimpeachably reliable art professional (not from the Frick or FAMSF), who has knowledge of the imminent appointment. As you may remember, I had been told last month by an inside source at FAMSF that the museum was then in negotiations with its leading candidate. It is now thought to be on the verge of making that announcement.”

Ken Garcia, spokesperson for the museums, could not immediately be reached by phone. The Guardian left a voice message with Bailey seeking comment, and soon heard back from a representative of the Frick Collection press office, who said she had no information about it.

The New York Times piece also included an interview with Wilsey herself. (The San Francisco philanthropist did not respond to Guardian requests for comment.)

“No one person has authority to do anything,” Wilsey told the New York Times. “I serve at the will of the board, and all decisions are made through the staff. We are a public institution and we are totally transparent.” She added: “I almost have to give 72 hours of public notice if I want to gain weight.”

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