Kim Sajet, president and chief executive of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania since 2007, has been tapped to be director of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., the historical society announced Tuesday.
The Australia-born Sajet, 47, who came to the historical society from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where she was a vice president, will become the sixth director of the portrait gallery, established by Congress in 1962 as a unit of the Smithsonian Institution.
"I'm really excited," she said in an interview. "And I'm really sad -- I love the historical society -- but this is an opportunity I could not pass up."
Since 2007, Sajet has developed a strategic plan for the society focused on its potential as a "center for history and learning," and launched two new departments: the Digital Center for Americana, which has posted more than 65,000 images online so far, and History Affiliates, which supports more than 340 history and heritage organizations in southeastern Pennsylvania.
She has also wrestled with a tough funding climate in the wake of the 2008 fiscal crisis.
But the historical society is deficit free, according to officials, and about to embark on a $5.5 million renovation project.
Compact storage units and new cooling and security systems, a new foyer, new gathering spaces, a new roof and facade stabilization are all in store for the society's building at 13th and Locust Streets.
"I thought the end of last year was the toughest" for fund-raising, she said. "But we ended up making our goals."
Overall, she said, the society has "managed to do reasonably well" in the difficult climate.
Sajet raised $15 million for building renovation, endowments, special collection and public-program projects, acquisitions, and annual operating funds over the past six years, officials said.
"Kim provided exceptional leadership and vision," Bruce Fenton, chairman of the society's board of councilors, said in a statement.
Fenton pointed to the society's new strategic plan, which emphasizes access to the society's vast archives, and cited Sajet's efforts "in expanding our audience through the use of technology, new media, innovative programming," and improved services.
"She was a tireless advocate for history and cultural organizations throughout southeastern Pennsylvania and beyond the Delaware Valley," he added.
At the portrait gallery, Sajet will succeed Martin Sullivan, who stepped down last June, as permanent director.
Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian, praised her as "a solid manager who blends extensive art expertise with business and fundraising acumen."
Fenton, head of the historical society's board, said the search for a successor will begin shortly.
Sajet begins in her new position on April 1.