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Arts & Culture

Executive Director of the San Diego Museum of Art Resigns

Derrick Cartwright, former executive director of the San Diego Museum of Art
Derrick Cartwright, former executive director of the San Diego Museum of Art

Executive Director of the San Diego Museum of Art Resigns
San Diego Museum of Art's Executive Director resigns to accept post at the Seattle Art Museum.

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It was announced yesterday that Derrick Cartwright, the executive director of the San Diego Museum of Art since 2004, will be leaving that post to take the same position at the Seattle Art Museum and we have Derek on the line to talk about his new position and his tenure here in San Diego. Welcome, Derrick.


DERRICK CARTWRIGHT: Good morning, Maureen. It's great to be here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, I have to say congratulations on your new job.

DERRICK CARTWRIGHT: Thanks very much.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Talk to us about your reasons for heading up to Seattle.

DERRICK CARTWRIGHT: First I want to say how much I’ve benefited from being here in San Diego and how much I appreciate this community. It was a very tough decision to make to leave this post which I've really enjoyed and think the museum is in terrific shape here so it was the only way that I can contemplate that kind of move. The Seattle Art Museum I think is one of the really great museums in this country and has experienced this tremendous growth over the last few years under Mimi Gates’ leadership. So it’s a real honor for me to be considered for the post and ultimately to be offered the job.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now you will be staying on through the summer here in San Diego to help with the transition. What are the plans for filling the position, do you know?

DERRICK CARTWRIGHT: That’s going to be the Board of Trustees making those decisions and I think it’s a great board and they will undoubtedly be able to attract somebody really important to this post and I think the museum will thrive under new leadership. We have a really busy summer. There are a lot of great things happening at this museum. The board has been really committed to keeping the programming vibrant through the economic downturns. So, just in a few days we're going to open up a major exhibition of Richard Avedon's work, one of the great portrait photographers of the 20th century. That will be followed up by a major expedition of Alexander Calder's work which has been at Metropolitan Museum in New York, followed in the fall by exhibitions of Mark Rothko and other artists. So it’s going to be a really exciting time at SDMA and I’m actually going to watch from afar, but with a lot of admiration for what the team here has done.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well Derrick, while I have you on the line let's talk about a couple of financial things and a couple of emphasis shifts that have taken place under your tenure. You just talked about the Avedon show. Did the San Diego Museum of Art take on a new focus on photography under your tenure?

DERRICK CARTWRIGHT: We did return to an interest in photography that was at this institution at the very outset. Reginald Poland who was the first museum director at SDMA collected photography from some of the great Californian photographers, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams. They were all part of the collection. The museum moved away from that, and what I noticed when I arrived is that you can't think of a major museum in the United States or elsewhere that doesn't have an important photography program. It's one of the most vital forms of art. And so San Diego needed to have more than just a museum of photographic arts. If you think about the art Institute of Chicago or the Getty or the Metropolitan Museum, all of those institutions have great photography programs and many of those cities also have very fine photography museums, as we do here in San Diego. So, I guess I did try to rejuvenate the photography program here and Avedon and Annie Leibovitz, and we are hoping that in the future there would be an Arnold Newman show here, all of those make sense given this institution’s concern for the history of art and the role that portraiture plays in the history. We've got some great old Master paintings upstairs that will be interesting to look at after people come in and see the Avedon show.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now I know, Derrick, that this museum went through a series of painful layoffs in February. What other measures are being taken to secure the financial health of the San Diego Museum of Art?

DERRICK CARTWRIGHT: I want to say how proud I am of this institution for taking some difficult steps. It certainly is nothing that any of us wanted to do, but I think the Board of Trustees deserves a lot of credit for recognizing the depth of the problem that existed and tackling that problem. They saw it more clearly than I did. I have to be honest. And we took very proactive steps to resize the institution. The museum is incredibly stable right now. We think we are going to end this year with a balanced budget which will be a great thing, and especially in this environment to do that is a real credit to the leadership of the institution. And you know, that did mean that we had to reduce our staff and we have so many talented people here, I can't tell you how painful that decision was. But the museum can move forward now and rebuild in a strong way and I think we will be at the forefront of that. And again, it’s one of the factors in allowing me the privilege of taking another position, was knowing the institution was in really good shape.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now the former contemporary curator Betty Sue Herz left a museum last year. What are the plans to fill that position?

DERRICK CARTWRIGHT: That's an interesting question. We will have to grapple with that. Betty Sue was a terrific force in the San Diego scene and she did a lot of import shows with contemporary art here and I was looking forward to playing that role on an interim basis and you will see that there are going to be some nice contemporary things happening. But ultimately the institution is going to have to wrestle with that problem and I guess that’s an issue that I'm leaving for my successor to decide.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well thank you very much. I’m very happy that you were able to spend a few minutes with us. I've been speaking with Derrick Cartwright, the executive director of the San Diego museum of art. He's announced that he will be leaving that post to take the same position at the Seattle Art Museum. Derek, thank you once again.

DERRICK CARTWRIGHT: Thank you, Maureen.