Early finish: Carnegie Museums and its leader were wise to part
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In 2011, John Wetenhall assumed the presidency of Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh with much fanfare. He was lauded for his people skills, art knowledge and business savvy by colleagues at the Miami Art Museum, where he previously worked.
During his eight-year stewardship as executive director of the Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Fla., Mr. Wetenhall established a $55 million endowment, expanded the art collection, the museum's wings and completed a $15 million restoration of the Ringling mansion.
Because of his academic pedigree and more than a decade of experience running museums and raising money, it was easy to see why the search committee that selected him believed Mr. Wetenhall was the perfect pick to lead Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh into a future that was both artistically and financially sound.
Little more than a year later, those expectations have been dashed. Mr. Wetenhall is leaving the Carnegie Museums to return to Florida by year's end. Former Carnegie Museums head David Hillenbrand will return as an interim until a new president is found.
What happened? Last year, the Carnegie Museums hired an outside company to assess Mr. Wetenhall's performance by interviewing his colleagues. The reviews were not kind. There are reports that a gala thrown in his honor didn't go well and that his frequent absences for business in Washington, D.C., and Florida and travels to art shows in Europe undermined his authority with subordinates. Some of the complaints, however -- like his choice of attire on Fridays -- sounded petty.
Still, the reviews indicated a clash of expectations and a vat of bad chemistry that could not be overcome. For all of Mr. Wetenhall's brilliance, it is alleged by museum insiders that he had difficulty leading his staff. Since this is at the core of his mission, his tenure became untenable. Both he and the Carnegie Museums were wise to cut their losses.
It's a shame that Mr. Wetenhall's tenure at the Carnegie Museums didn't work out. His resume painted a picture that looked like a perfect fit for one of the most impressive museums in the country. Still, he will spearhead the roll-out of a five-year strategic plan to the museum board in November, perhaps his last official duty. Pittsburgh should thank him for his service and wish him well in his future endeavors.
First Published October 25, 2012 12:00 am