Turmoil continues at Florida’s Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, with the resignation of executive director and CEO Anne-Marie Russell, following several other senior staff departures this year.
Russell joined the museum as interim director just over a year ago in September 2022, following the departure of her predecessor, Kristen Shepherd, who served in the role for nearly six years. In March, Russell’s appointment became permanent—but her last day with the institution will be March 1, 2024, as first reported by the Tampa Bay Times.
“Anne-Marie assumed her role with the specific objective of preparing the MFA for its reaccreditation in 2024 and ensuring that the museum adhered to the highest standards of museum best practices. Her unwavering commitment to implementing these best practices and guiding the organization through a timely restructuring have proven invaluable,” board chairman Piers Davies said in a statement.
The day-to-day business of running the museum is now being handled by chief curator Stanton Thomas and chief strategy officer Darcy Schuller, who were appointed by the museum board to oversee the transitional period between directors. A search for a permanent successor is currently underway with a global executive search firm.
Until her departure, Russell will handle “collections stewardship and programming while continuing to advise the MFA on special projects,” according to the institution. Her prior experience includes serving as executive director of Architecture Sarasota, the Sarasota Art Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tucson, where she was also chief curator.
But Russell’s exit follows on the heels of several high-profile resignations at the museum, as well as controversial firing of senior curator Michael Bennett connected to an exhibition of Greek antiquities after concerns arose about the works’ provenance.
The show, “From Chaos to Order: Greek Geometric Art from the Sol Rabin Collection,” was originally lauded for offering new perspective on the development of Greek art, seen for the first time through the lens of geometry. It was set to travel to the Denver Art Museum, but the Colorado institution became concerned that most of the 57 works did not have provenance documentation proving they had been exported from Greece before 1970, as required by the UNESCO 1970 Convention. Many of the sculptures had also been acquired through the dealer Robert E. Hecht, who is believed to have been part of a sophisticated smuggling operation.
The MFA put Bennett on leave and ultimately fired him. Other 2023 departures at the Florida museum include senior curator of photography Jane Aspinwall and lead preparator of exhibits Paul Churchill, who both resigned; and senior manager of special projects Jorge Vidal, who accepted the post of executive director at St. Petersburg’s Florida CraftArt.
The museum did not respond to requests for comment regarding Russell’s abrupt departure, or the high rate of turnover at the institution this year.
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