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Museum director search begins

Provost Peter Lange has charged a search committee headed by economics professor Neil De Marchi to search for a new art museum director, after former director Michael Mezzatesta's contract was not renewed by the University this summer.

A new director will be hired by the end of this academic year, Lange said. The search committee is now "laying the groundwork" to identify candidates, aiming for individuals who know the museum world well from artistic, academic and managerial standpoints.

"[Strong candidates] have to have a good sense of museums, knowledge of art and the arts, and how they can be affected by museums," Lange said. "They need to be sensitive to the academic role that a museum would have at Duke, and they need to be able to think strategically and manage an enterprise of the kind we're creating."

Jerry Bolas, director of the Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said a university museum directorship is somewhat different from the position at other museums because of the academic element.

"Basically, the director is responsible for fulfilling of the artistic mission of the museum and has to be comfortable, experienced and able at making artistic decisions in terms of programming," Bolas said. "The one attribute that would be very important for a university museum director is the enjoyment of and commitment to the academic enterprise."

Mezzatesta served as director of the Duke University Museum of Art for 16 years before being released. For much of that time, he was working toward the creation of a new, internationally respected museum--the Nasher Museum of Art, now under construction on Campus Drive--but was forced to cede the museum's reins as a new chapter begins in the University's art museum history.

The job ahead will be much changed from what it was during Mezzatesta's directorship, Lange said, calling for a "different ambition."

"We've got a museum [that] can do a lot more in terms of exhibitions, traveling exhibitions [and] putting on display our own art... and it's almost certainly a museum which can interact with our academic enterprise at an even higher level than Director Mezzatesta was able to bring it," Lange said.

Bolas identified a strong correlation between elite universities and top art museums, saying that about half of the largest university museums are found at top-20 schools.

"It's extremely significant that Duke has undertaken to create a substantial and durable and beautiful art museum on campus, and certainly it will be one more jewel in its crown of distinction," he said. "There is great promise on the horizon for the Nasher Museum." Mezzatesta's departure was the most recent in a series of exits by prominent administrators, most of whom decided to leave to pursue other opportunities in higher education.

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