October 20, 2021 – New York City-based Phillips Oppenheim has been enlisted to find the next leader of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). Sarah James and Becky Klein are leading the assignment. The official title of the role is the Helen and Charles Schwab director. “Our aspiration is to identify a leader with a commitment to artistic excellence everywhere it resides and to activating SFMOMA as a shared resource of our community that begins in San Francisco and radiates out to the global village,” said the museum. “We will search for and hope to attract candidates who have both conventional and atypical professional backgrounds of distinction. Our Bay Area community is defined by its leadership in transformational innovation. We hope to find a museum leader who inspires a level of innovation and creativity that reflects the best aspects of our local ethos.”
SFMOMA is looking to embed equity, inclusion and diversity in all of its activities and requires a leader focused on those measurable outcomes. “Utilizing well-honed communication and managerial skills, we seek a leader that inspires our SFMOMA team to bring their best and true selves to the jobs they perform in service of a shared culture with commonly held goals,” said SFMOMA. “We seek a leader with an outreaching charismatic personality, able to respond to and lead change with vision, empathy, humility, and resilience. A forward-thinking, future-oriented perspective and an open mindset are personal attributes that will be key to SFMOMA as we continue our mission to transform the organization from the inside out.”
Candidates should have proven leadership skills. It is essential that prospects have “an exceptional ability to articulate a clear vision, set an associated strategy and inspire talented professionals, an energized community, and enthusiastic supporters to become vigorous allies in driving common goals and clearly articulated results,” said the museum. “Innovation is existential. Going forward, SFMOMA will be defined in large part by its ability to innovate. Key indicators of this success will center around the ability of the leader to establish and make visible an aesthetic signature. A creative and bold thinker able to take calculated risks to establish new paradigms will be important to optimizing the future for the museum.”
The museum wants a leader who is a well-established art professional with global art world stature. The individual should be “both deeply rooted in the historical canon and have a proven record at rewriting old orthodoxies.” Excellent communication skills will be required to promote SFMOMA and inspire new and existing constituencies to work as partners. “We imagine full access to a vision-led future across a range of established and yet to be conceived platforms,” said the museum. “An ability to attract and lead world-class curatorial talent who create new and urgently relevant knowledge is an essential skill.”
He or she should also be a seasoned and excellent manager of people and their talents. “We seek a director able to retain and attract the best talent and provide the culture, resources, encouragement, and environment they need to perform and to thrive,” said the museum. “We desire a leadership model that both empowers and holds accountable the whole team with respect to their individual and collective contributions towards effectively marshalling SFMOMA’s human, financial and reputational capital.”
The next director must also be able to implement effective models of sustainability. “We would like to attract a leader who excels at fundraising from both existing and new sources,” said SFMOMA. “The community in the Bay Area is an especially robust resource for an outgoing professional. The preferred profile is a director who does not approach fundraising merely as a necessary responsibility, but rather a director who loves to advocate for mission-critical visionary initiatives that patrons find irresistible.”
Finding Mission-Driven Leaders
Phillips Oppenheim, founded in 1991, provides mission-driven organizations with senior leaders from the business, public and non-profit sectors. It sponsors roundtable discussions, participates in workshops and conferences and acts as informal counsel to non-profit organizations and their boards. Among its many clients: New York City Ballet, the Museum of the American Revolution, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Arts Club, Table to Table, the African Wildlife Foundation and the Barack Obama Presidential Museum, and others.
Ms. James has been recruiting for local, national, and international non-profit institutions and corporations since 1996. A generalist, she has recruited chief executives for leading arts, aid, advocacy, education, environmental, faith-based, healthcare, philanthropic and social service institutions. Since joining Phillips Oppenheim in 2001, she has founded its visual arts practice, recruiting directors for more than 100 art institutions.
Ms. Klein has combined search experience with the arts during her professional career. She joined Phillips Oppenheim in 1993, became a partner in the firm in 2000 and serves as the firm’s managing partner. While bringing a special focus on cultural institutions, Ms. Klein has worked with a diverse range of clients including foundations, social justice, advocacy organizations and academic institutions across the U.S. and internationally.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media