Phoenix Art Museum this week announced the official appointment of its interim director, who will take over as Amada Cruz leaves her post as museum CEO today. More significantly, the museum also introduced a new “transition team” of trustees who will “provide additional support and guidance” as the board searches for Cruz’s permanent replacement. That team will be managed by longtime arts maven Shelley Cohn, according to correspondence to trustees from the museum’s outgoing and incoming board chairs.
Cohn, the former executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, will coordinate the national search for a new director and CEO. She also likely will participate in what the museum is calling “a number of strategies and steps to ensure continuity of leadership for Phoenix Art Museum.”
Museum representatives declined to comment, but its board correspondence lists Cohn’s tasks as including “support of the museum's efforts to engage donors or other audience constituents who may have reduced or eliminated their support of the museum.” That’s the first admission by PAM that the institution lost tens of millions of dollars in bequests when longtime supporters of the museum disinherited the museum during Cruz’s reign.
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Museum CFO Mark Koenig will do double duty as PAM’s interim director, an interesting choice considering that the museum ended fiscal year 2018-19 more than $2 million in debt, with an approved budget deficit of nearly $1 million for next year.
The museum has not yet released an official statement about its reversals, pending an audit of accounts this fall, nor has it addressed previous reports of financial solvency, now contradicted by its profit-and-loss statements (and before that by reporting in Phoenix New Times). The new transition team also includes treasurer Mark Feldman, who may also have contributed to the museum’s lack of transparency regarding its financial condition.
The correspondence, which mentions a July 8 press release not received by New Times, also reports the promotion of chief curator Gilbert Vicario, who will now serve as deputy director of curatorial affairs. The letter to the board further defines part of the museum’s debt as “a $1 million loan for capital improvements by the Arizona Community Foundation for renovations to its vault.”
Cruz accepted a job as the new CEO and director of the Seattle Art Museum.