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The Center for Curatorial Leadership

February 10, 2014

While I love writing about nonprofit organizations that American Express supports, I also occasionally like to write about organizations that are advancing the causes that we believe in even though they are not currently receiving grants from us. One such organization is the Center for Curatorial Leadership.

Founded by Agnes Gund and Elizabeth Easton in 2006, the Center for Curatorial Leadership (CCL) aims to train museum curators to assume leadership positions in the rapidly evolving cultural climate of the 21st century. Its mandate is to identify individuals within the curatorial ranks of museums who have the potential to become leaders, and to help them shape themselves into curators who not only take charge of the art in their care, but who are also capable of assuming leadership responsibilities essential to today's art museum.

The Center accepts applications from curators currently working in art museums in North America and abroad. Approximately 10 Fellows are accepted each year, all of whom have significant curatorial experience.

Since its founding, the Center has graduated 62 Fellows after an annual two-week intensive program that includes courses taught by Columbia University Business School faculty as well as practical exposure and assignments provided by museums, cultural institutions and other civic organizations. The program also includes a mentorship/residency with a museum director and a student mentoring project.

Of the 62 curators who have completed the program, 13 have been appointed directors of museums and 11 are now deputy directors. 70 percent have received promotions, and 20 percent have received salary increases of over 50 percent. Regardless of an official title change, 86 percent of the graduates report that their responsibilities have increased since their participation in the program and that they are now more involved with strategic planning and fundraising for the entire museum.

[These results are consistent with our findings of the emerging nonprofit leaders who have participated in the American Express Leadership Academy during the past six years. Through a recent survey, we found that over 93 percent of Leadership Academy participants are still working in the nonprofit sector and over 70 percent of them have been promoted or taken on positions with greater responsibilities.]

Gary Tinterow, the Director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and a 2008 CCL Fellow states:

  • The CCL was nothing less than transformative for me. It was refreshingly re-orienting to have my assumptions about museums and nonprofit organizations challenged from a perspective of contemporary management theory; to learn from the varied practices of my colleagues at different institutions; and to hear from a panoply of professionals, from government officials, foundation officers and museum directors to prominent collectors and trustees. I emerged a different person.

Likewise, Sylvia Cubina, the Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Bass Art Museum in Miami and a 2008 CCL Fellow says:

  • The director's job description is daunting and the necessary skills are many and often at conflict one with the other. CCL helped me strengthen business skills and it provided me with valuable resources, sometimes by simply giving me the vocabulary to call things by their real names. Above all, though, CCL inspired me to envision myself as the director of a museum.

Operated as a special project of the AAMC Foundation, the Center for Curatorial Leadership is now seeking its own independent status as a nonprofit, tax exempt organization. The Center was originally funded with a multi-year grant from Agnes Gund, but it is now supported by a number of foundations (including the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Ford Foundation and the Lauder Foundation) as well as grants from individuals. [By the way, American Express has not yet been solicited for funding, but we're anticipating a request once the Center's independent tax exempt status is achieved.]

What do you think? Are curators poised to become the future directors of our prominent art museums? Should colleges and universities assume a greater role in training future curators to handle administrative assignments as well? Please share your comments by clicking here. Alternatively, please follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and comment there. Thanks for reading and sharing this blog with friends and colleagues.

P.S. Did you know that 69 percent of Center for Curatorial Leadership Fellows aspire to be the director or deputy director of a museum and 31 percent aspire to lead the curatorial department?


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