Phoenix Art Museum Trustee: Museum Not In Financial Difficulties, Had A Difficult Financial Year

Published: Thursday, July 11, 2019 - 11:35am
Updated: Monday, July 15, 2019 - 9:24am
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Phoenix Art Museum in downtown Phoenix.

MARK BRODIE: The Phoenix Art Museum is officially looking for a new leader. Yesterday was Amada Cruz’s last day as director and CEO. She’s going to Seattle, to take a similar position with that city’s art museum. The Phoenix Art Museum also recently led some staff go and announced it ended the most recent fiscal year with a roughly $2 million deficit. Joining me to talk about the art museum's future both in terms of its finances and a new CEO is Mark Feldman. He's the treasurer of the museum's board of trustees as well as its incoming co-chair. And Mark, as you moved to that co-chair position do you have particular priorities you're looking to take on.

MARK FELDMAN: Yeah, there's a number of things that are the focus areas of our activities as we approach the summer and the fall. First off is we now have a vacancy in our CEO spot with Amada Cruz's departure to the Seattle area and running that museum. We will have to fill that position number one. Number two, we will be focused on our financial stability and revenue development activities that will be continue to be keys for us as we focus internally on things for the museum. And then as we think about externally, we continue to have a focus on accessibility to the Art Museum as well as the educational programming that we offer.

BRODIE: You mentioned the departure of Amada Cruz. I'm wondering, how you how would you describe her tenure as head of the museum.

FELDMAN: It was an environment featuring substantially increased accessibility to the museum, substantially increased connections with our community in a short period of time. We have increased the number of visitors to the museum. We've increased the number of people at the lower end of the giving spectrum to donate to our art museum. So I think Amada's leadership can be characterized largely by a much more significant connection with the entirety of the community as well as accessibility a museum. And we are excited for those things to continue, to have momentum.

BRODIE: Her tenure though also was marked by a bit of controversy, and I don't want to get into the specifics of any of it, but I'm wondering if when you look at some of those aspects, how you think about those relative to whoever her successor will be.

FELDMAN: Well her person carries their own strengths and weaknesses, and I've yet to find the perfect person in my life other than of course my wife. And so in that we will continue to look at the issues where we could be better at where we could improve where we could make better connections with some of our constituents, whether they be docent volunteers, employees or people that we interact with all around the community. And so we do recognize that the quality of those interactions is directly connected to our ability to be effective as a leader in the community in our education and our participation.

BRODIE: Well given that I'm wondering if you have a sense of some of the qualities that you'll be looking for in the next director.

FELDMAN: We will look for someone who has experience running an army of this size, someone who is familiar with the aspects of fundraising in a town like Phoenix, Arizona, someone who interacts well with other colleagues in the community, and, most importantly, someone who can continue the diversity, inclusiveness and access that is an integral part of what our museum is all about today.

BRODIE: Do you think that that person might already be in Phoenix or Arizona? Do you expect to have to look outside the city or the state for that person?

FELDMAN: We would be delighted if the person came from Phoenix. We are not limiting our search geographically. Of course it would always be wonderful if someone locally could be that person. It's possible. I wouldn't give it a high probability, but it's possible.

BRODIE: So a little earlier you mentioned working on the financials for the museum and the museum recently announced that it would be ending the current fiscal year with a deficit of around $2 million. What led to that deficit, because it hadn't been the case and certainly hadn't been the word from the museum that it was it was having financial issues.

FELDMAN: The art museum is not in financial difficulties. We had a difficult financial year that just ended last week, and the primary reasons for that were inconsistency with our development team in retaining them and having them be effective in the community. We just had gaps in our development team that didn't allow us to optimize and maximize some significant donations that we had received in years past. For the first two or three years of a modest term, we had run surpluses, and we're able to eliminate some debt that had occurred prior to her beginning as the CEO. And so we had made great progress. And so this year was a hiccup for sure. And with the continued building and investing in our development team, we look forward to smoothing out the lost and ramping up towards break even or surpluses in order to solve this issue.

BRODIE: When you look at some of that smoothing, do you anticipate trying to advance the revenue side or trying to reduce the expenditure side? The museum recently let a number of employees go. Are you looking at spending cuts, are you looking to try to boost the revenue? What's that what's the equation there?

FELDMAN: Well that is precisely the equation, Mark. We had to reduce some expenses, and we unfortunately had to let seven full-time people and one part-time person go. That's always difficult. We have about 200 employees, and so our goal is to not make any additional cuts and in fact to make some investments, particularly around the programmatic and the development area. But our most important activity beyond expense reductions, which moved the needle only slightly, is regaining the revenue momentum that we had with this new development team that we're putting in place.

BRODIE: When you look at the Phoenix Art Museum 3, 5, 7, 10 years down the road, what do you see?

FELDMAN: A continued increase in accessibility. I see financial stability with the hiring of this new CEO as well as leadership by the board and the quality work done by the management team and all the staff at the Art Museum. I also see the continued development of a national platform, both on the revenue side and on the programmatic side.

BRODIE: All right. That's Mark Feldman, the incoming co-chair of the Phoenix Art Museum board of trustees. He's the current treasurer of that group. Mark, thanks for your time I appreciate it.

FELDMAN: Thank you.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Mark Feldman's name.

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