Two years after publicly confronting allegations of sexual harassment, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has elected its new leader: Sasha Suda, current director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa, Ontario.
Praising her educational and work experience, Leslie Anne Miller, the museum’s president, said in an interview Tuesday that Suda was “the right person for the institution at this point in its history.”
“We hope that their gender will be seen through our lens, which is emblematic of the institution’s ongoing commitment to promoting DEI in all that we do,” Miller continued, referring to the museum’s attention to diversity, equity and integrity. inclusion. “Sasha understands the critical importance of building on our efforts to date to reach out to the community and engage through exhibits.”
Suda, 41, who will start in September as the 14th director and CEO, will take charge of a 145-year-old institution still reeling from controversy. In 2020, a New York Times report revealed that a young manager had been accused of mistreating multiple female staff members. Government officials criticized the museum; unionized employees, citing gender and equity issues; and former museum director Timothy Rub apologized to his staff. Rub finally announced his resignation last summer after serving for 13 years.
At the National Gallery, where she was appointed in February 2019, Suda focused on justice and equity with a commitment to reconciliation with indigenous peoples.
“I am passionate about human-centered leadership and really interested in building that strength, so that people can see the value of the work they do and the value of their own lived experience, where managers and leaders have room for discomfort and much needed conversations. Suda said in a telephone interview.
“That’s what this moment is really about for me as a leader,” he continued, “going into those conversations with a willingness to make space and be there for them and have your eyes wide open.”
He added that the Philadelphia Museum, known for its collection of about 240,000 works of art, including those by Brancusi, Duchamp, Rodin and Jasper Johns (as well as its trademark front steps, featured in the movie “Rocky”), has been one of them for a long time. of his favourites. “I used to find myself lost in galleries,” Suda said. “It’s just one of the rare places where you can switch off and enjoy art in a museum at its best.”
At a time when cultural institutions are trying to diversify their staff, boards, collections, and programming, no doubt some will question the museum’s decision not to name a person of color. In February, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art replaced its former leader, Neal Benezra, with Christopher Bedford, the director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, who is white.
But Miller said Suda was the best qualified person, adding that the museum had cast “the widest possible net to attract the most diverse pool of candidates.”
Miller also cited Suda’s communication skills as being of paramount importance to the institution. The Philadelphia Museum of Art was widely criticized by current and former staff members for not openly addressing issues involving a former education manager, Joshua Helmer, who re-emerged as director of the Erie Art Museum before being forced to leave his job. there after the New York Times report.
Helmer has refused to discuss accounts of his treatment of women or his relationships with them, though he said he always followed museum policy.
Born in Toronto to Czech parents, Suda earned her bachelor’s degree from Princeton University, her master’s in art history from Williams College, and her Ph.D. at New York University. She began her career in the medieval department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she served in various roles between 2003 and 2011.
She subsequently returned to Canada as an assistant curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario, eventually becoming its curator of European Art and then chair of prints and drawings.
Suda is the third female director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Anne d’Harnoncourt was director and CEO from 1982 until her death in 2008; Jean Sutherland Boggs, who previously headed the National Gallery of Canada, was director of the Philadelphia museum from 1978 to 1982.
Like cultural institutions around the world, the Philadelphia Museum has been struggling to recover from the pandemic, which required staff and budget cuts. The museum currently has an operating budget of $62 million and is close to completing a fundraising campaign that brings its endowment to $560 million.
Last year, the museum completed the first part of a Frank Gehry-designed renovation and expansion.
But his top priority seems to be repairing his public stature as well as his internal health; after a 2020 “cultural assessment,” the museum committed additional resources to key areas in need of repair. “The institution has not fled from its problems; we’ve confronted them head-on,” Miller said. “We are working on efforts to improve communication and transparency.
“Have we solved the problems? Absolutely not,” she added. “Are we committed to working on them? Absolutely.
“This is a new chapter in a new world,” he continued. “We have to start thinking outside the box. We cannot go back to what it was then. This is now.”