This story was updated at 11:57 a.m. on June 10:
Apparently a story in Phoenix New Times about problems at the Phoenix Art Museum was not enough to scare off the Seattle Art Museum from hiring Amada Cruz as its new director and CEO.
But it came up in the search process, according to the Seattle Times, which broke the hiring story.
In March, New Times writer Robrt Pela detailed a litany of complaints against Cruz from current and former employees at the Phoenix museum. Cruz has been director and CEO in Phoenix since 2015.
“Naturally, that gave the search committee some pause,” Charlie Wright, Seattle Art Museum board member, told the Seattle Times. “But we called people, checked in with the board chair, did some due diligence. I would say she was brought on there to affect change, she did it and some people didn’t like it. I guess I’m comforted by the fact that as a leader she’s comfortable with change.”
Pela wrote that according to several of the more than 100 volunteers "who have resigned in disgust in the past year" that Cruz hired an inexperienced staff that knows neither museums nor art. "And her approach to fixing the museum’s financial shortfall has, these former docents and dethroned organization leaders and ex-museum members claim, destroyed the spirit and annexed the accomplishments of a once-notable arts establishment."
But Pela also wrote that when Cruz arrived, the museum routinely ran annual deficits of more than $1 million. Today, the museum is —on paper, at least — in the black. Its audited financial statements for 2017-2018 show $40 million in assets, including $3 million in cash and cash equivalents, yet the museum borrowed $1 million from the Arizona Community Foundation and another $1.2 million in an equity line of credit from Morgan Stanley.
"During her first six months as its director," Pela added, "the museum increased its endowment by nearly $5 million."
Cruz sounded excited to be leaving Phoenix.
“I feel like I have been given a gift. Seattle is a thriving, young, innovative city looking toward the future. It has three sites — the downtown museum, the incredible sculpture park, the Asian art museum,” Cruz told the Seattle Times. “And Seattle has some of the best private collections in the country. There’s nothing to not be excited about.”
The Phoenix Art Museum has not responded to New Times' request for comment, but according to the Arizona Republic, Jon Hulburd, chair of the board of trustees, released this statement:
“Amada dedicated herself to elevating the museum, its collection and its scholarship on a national and international scale and empowered her staff to do the same, all while creating new opportunities for local artists and working to increase access so that every person in our community knows that they are welcomed here,” he said.
Stay with New Times for further developments.
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