Phoenix Art Museum Hires Chief Curator; Jerry Smith Resigns

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The staff changes at Phoenix Art Museum keep on coming.

Jerry Smith, PAM's longtime curator of European, American and Western art, submitted his resignation on Friday, August 14. And, according to a Tuesday, August 18, report from The Republic, PAM has hired Gilbert Vicario as its chief curator. 

Smith did not respond to a request for comment regarding his departure. Among his recent curatorial contributions to the museum are "Andy Warhol: Portraits" and "Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Leicester and the Power of Observation." He will join St. Petersburg, Florida's Museum of Fine Arts as chief curator.

Since Amada Cruz become director of Phoenix Art Museum in February 2015, 12 museum staffers (including Smith) have resigned. In addition to the dozen departures, four staffers have reportedly been fired since Cruz became director. They include former marketing director Carlotta Soares and public relations manager Stephanie Lieb, who were let go on Friday, August 14. Evan Roberts left his position as web and social media administrator on Monday, August 10, to take a job as a social media specialist at Carrington College.

"I really cared about the museum, but with everything going on, I couldn't in good conscience stay," Roberts says, adding that he did not like the way his fellow staffers were treated.

Currently, the museum's marketing department has one sole member: graphic designer Felicia Penza. According to Penza, an interim marketing manager is expected to be on staff by the end of the week.

Cruz has declined to comment on specific personnel matters.

Cruz's leadership has come under fire as rumors have circulated that she is behind the four firings. Sources familiar with the situation have suggested that Cruz wants to assemble her own staff and clear out those with allegiances to former director James Ballinger, who was with PAM for 40 years, 33 of which he acted as director. 

In addition to serving as chief curator, Vicario will also take on the duties of the long-vacant contemporary curator position, according to The Republic. Phoenix Art Museum has not had a contemporary curator on staff since Sara Cochran left the museum in September 2013. In  November 2014, PAM's board of directors rescinded a job offer for the contemporary curatorship made to Jennifer Sudul Edwards. The board took back the offer because its members wanted Ballinger's replacement to have a hand in hiring a new contemporary art curator. 

When PAM announced that it received a $2.5 million gift from Suzanne and Bud Selig to fund a chief curator position (something that hasn't existed at the museum in about a decade), there was no indication that the job would be combined with that of the contemporary curator. The chief curator originally was described as a supervisor of the museum's curators, developing exhibitions and a collections strategy. This would allow Cruz to focus on "fundraising and expanding the international visibility of the museum."

A separate contemporary curator will not be hired.

Vicario, who currently works at Iowa's Des Moines Art Center, is set to join the museum in October. The news of his hiring follows that of Kaela Hoskings, who replaces Kathryn Blake as PAM's education director. Blake had worked at the museum since 1991, leaving in July 2015 to become director of Juniata College of Art in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.

Hoskings comes to the museum from Artpace in San Antonio, a nonprofit that Cruz ran before coming to Phoenix.

Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version.

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