Director of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts

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Administration
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91122 Requisition #

Stanford University seeks a dynamic, empowering, and collaborative leader to be the next Director of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts (Cantor). This is an exciting opportunity to strengthen and invigorate the Cantor amidst the robust intellectual environment of one of the world’s premier academic and research institutions.

 

The Cantor finds itself in a moment of transition and opportunity. After more than a year of change in the Cantor, the museum field, and in the social, cultural, and educational landscape, the next Director will be charged with transforming the Cantor to model a distinctive and impactful answer to what a visual arts center can be in one of the world’s leading research universities.

 

Originally opened in 1891 as the Stanford Museum, the Cantor has a collection that spans 5,000 years and more than 38,000 works of art from around the globe. Free admission, tours, lectures, and family activities make it one of the most visited university art museums in the country. Further, Stanford has invested significantly in the arts in recent years, completing the Stanford Arts Initiative in 2011, renovating and expanding several buildings to create an Arts District around the Cantor, and creating the Office of the Vice President for the Arts in 2017 to enhance the impact of the arts on campus and beyond. Recent initiatives at the museum, including “Rodin’s Hands” and The Asian American Art Initiative, have showcased the myriad intellectual, technological, and cultural resources available through Stanford and the Bay Area’s diverse communities, and the next Director will be well-poised to draw on them in envisioning the future of the Cantor.

 

The range of priorities for the Cantor and its Director crystalize around six interlinked aspirations:

  • Advance Stanford’s Vision and the Cantor’s Vision
  • Become Indispensable to Stanford’s Teaching Mission and Academic Life
  • Build a State-of-the-Art, Socially Just Organizational Structure and Culture
  • Engage the University’s Diverse Communities
  • Create a Vibrant Gathering Point for the Campus
  • Model the Art Institution of the Future

 

To set the Cantor on this path will require a leader with excellent interpersonal skills, impeccable curatorial taste, and an understanding of systematic planning, focused organizational transformation and execution, strategic collaboration, and the cultivation of numerous constituencies. Cantor’s leader must be able to think expansively and imaginatively and bring others along in realizing a bold vision while simultaneously building operational stability. To support the incoming Director in this endeavor, the university has undertaken a listening and visioning process to engage with the museum’s constituencies, consult with national leaders, and ensure internal alignment. Stanford has nearly unparalleled, intellectual, personnel, and financial resources among institutions of higher education, and a successful director will have immense opportunity to envision and create an exciting future for the Cantor.

 

Stanford has retained Isaacson, Miller, a national executive search firm, to assist in this search. All applications, nominations, and inquiries are confidential and should be directed to the parties listed at the conclusion of this document.

 

About the Cantor

The Cantor was created in tandem with the founding of Stanford in memory of the son of university founders Leland and Jane Stanford. It suffered damage and prolonged periods of closure after the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes, ultimately rebounding in 1999 as the revitalized Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts.

 

In addition to galleries devoted to the collection, the Cantor organizes approximately 15 temporary exhibitions annually. Entry is free, and prior to the Covid-19 pandemic the museum attracted approximately 250,000 visitors a year. Even more people engage with the Cantor online, connecting with 38,000+ digitized works now available for remote viewing (including virtual exhibitions of Richard Diebenkorn’s sketchbooks and Andy Warhol’s contact sheets), and via its Instagram channel (250,000 impressions) and website (700,000 visits).

 

The Cantor facility includes the historic museum building, the Halperin Family Wing (with special exhibitions, café, object study room, and auditorium space), and the Rodin Sculpture Garden and contemporary sculpture gardens. The museum encompasses 45,000 square feet of gallery space and, with gardens, 200,600 square feet total. The Cantor’s courtyard has significant potential for becoming a more active and inviting community space. 

 

The Cantor is a university resource. The exhibition program strives to connect to the academic life of the university, creating learning opportunities for students in a variety of disciplines. Faculty offer classes in the museum and, with students, participate in the development of exhibitions and programs. Lectures, film screenings, symposia, and dance and music performances draw visitors from the campus and beyond. In 2019, the last full pre-pandemic year of full operation, 130 classes with a total of approximately 1,500 students visited the museum. K-12 education programs reached thousands of children visiting in 400 school groups. That year, the Cantor offered tours for 13,000 people, organized 24 public programs for 2,000 guests, hosted 17,000 attendees for Second Sunday Family Programs, and benefited from 10,000 hours of contributed time from volunteers. In the past, initiatives like the Art+Science Learning Lab have brought students across academic disciplines into the museum, offering hands-on experience and the opportunity to build interdisciplinary connections while conserving the Cantor’s treasures.

 

The Cantor is part of Stanford’s Arts District which includes the Anderson Collection at Stanford University, the McMurtry Building for the Department of Art and Art History, Bing Concert Hall, and Frost Amphitheater. The proximity and density of these arts facilities in the Arts District provides for dynamic interactions among them. The Arts District’s location at the front of the campus highlights the importance the university has placed on the arts.

 

The Current Context

The Cantor boasts exceptional facilities, a remarkable collection, a committed and capable staff, and loyal supporters. The Cantor staff of approximately 40 is supplemented by several contract positions, shared support from Stanford’s central Office of the Vice President for the Arts, and a dedicated corps of volunteers, and includes staff that support both the Cantor and the Anderson Collection as well as staff based in the Office of Development. The current organizational structure includes interim co-directors, and the next Director will have the opportunity to establish a new organizational and leadership structure and make use of endowed funds to fill curatorial positions that are current empty. The Cantor enjoys the support of a distinguished Director’s Advisory Board (17 members plus eight ex-officio), which provides informed external perspectives on goals, priorities, and programs; helps obtain financial support; and advocates for the Cantor within and beyond Stanford. The Cantor’s active membership program (approximately 2,000 members) operates in partnership with the Anderson Collection, which opened in 2014, next door.

 

The Cantor has access to significant endowed funds, which supplies the majority of its operating budget, and significant reserves. There are some challenges around unrestricted funds, and so careful attention to, strategic use of restricted reserves, fundraising, and other revenue opportunities will be important for ongoing financial growth.

 

Perhaps the greatest challenge and opportunity for the Cantor in the coming years is to establish a clear and compelling vision for the museum, its role on campus and in the community, and to engage stakeholders to bring this vision to life. Museums like the Cantor are passionately committed to research and the care and presentation of art works. They offer direct encounters with objects of great cultural and emotional significance. Their exhibitions and programs help people understand themselves and their lives in the present moment. Yet, these lofty aims should not preclude the museum from being a popular destination for a wide range of people. It is expected that the incoming Director will be able to reconcile academic relevance and public attraction through well-calibrated programming and an institutional posture that is at once rigorous and accessible. 

 

Almost every university constituency has high expectations of the Cantor: faculty seek greater collaboration for both teaching and research, students desire a contemporary, accessible, transparent, and culturally sensitive institution, and members and volunteers hope the museum can be both a Bay Area cultural destination and a gathering place that engages and connects local communities.

 

At the same time, no museum can be all things to all people. The Cantor’s director, therefore, will need to articulate clear choices and priorities, and build consensus around them. They will have to define and leverage the Cantor’s strengths, starting with its expert team, its collections, and facilities. They will need to articulate a stance on the respective roles of historic and contemporary art and culture in the Cantor’s collections and programming. They will need to elevate the curatorial work of the Cantor to the next level. The Cantor will have to accomplish some of its goals through collaboration, in tandem with other units under the Vice Presidency for the Arts – notably including the Anderson Collection, located next door to the Cantor – each of which has its own particular strengths, as well as other departments and institutes across the rich panorama of the Stanford campus.

 

Further, the Cantor’s Director will need to anticipate and operate in the markedly reshaped ecology tomorrow’s museums will inhabit – one that the Cantor can shape and inform. The museum field has become global and cross-disciplinary. Institutions are turning more experiential, mediated, and entertaining. They increasingly position themselves as a “third place” between work and home, open to all people of all backgrounds. In a polarized and commercialized world, museums are places to find common ground. Alongside the traditional image of the museum as an elite ivory tower has emerged the vision of the museum as a welcoming and inclusive community space—a pivot from the “temple on the hill” to the “town square.”   

 

In the wake of Covid-19 and the ensuing social-justice movements, museums worldwide are engaged in a deep analysis of their priorities. They are seeking to become more community-minded and participatory, mindful of their legacies and reflexes, eager to be less Eurocentric and more polyphonic. A renewed commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion means that institutions are changing top to bottom: from the objects they collect, to the exhibits they mount, to the voices they engage, and the spaces they design. Meanwhile, new technologies are upending every aspect of museum practice. The Cantor’s Director will be expected to engage and lead these complex change processes.

 

Interim co-directors, in place since November 2020, have provided stability and support to the staff after a period of leadership and staff turnover, but continued progress on these goals will require a new Director with the right leadership profile: someone capable of setting a visionary direction, managing change, building and sustaining relationships, and generating financial support. Should these elements come into alignment, the Cantor has a remarkable opportunity not only to achieve its full potential, but to articulate a trailblazing example of what a university-based museum can be.

 

Aspirations and Indicators of Success

Today’s research university is precisely the place to invent tomorrow’s museum. In its next chapter, the Cantor can harness its considerable assets to become a boldly ambitious, cutting-edge, dynamic, and highly visible entity firmly rooted in Stanford’s capacities and values.

 

With these considerations in mind, the range of priorities for the Cantor and its Director crystalize around six interlinked aspirations:

Advance Stanford’s Vision and the Cantor’s Vision

The Director will collaborate across Stanford’s professional, academic, and public communities to manifest the potential of the Cantor in a university that is globally renowned as a nexus of discovery, innovation, and forward thinking. Stanford is actively implementing a recently adopted long-range vision: Fueled by optimism, ingenuity and a sense of responsibility, we seek to accelerate our purposeful impact in the world. As an anchor of Stanford’s arts ecology, the Cantor is expected to contribute meaningfully to that vision. Notably, the Cantor can contribute to a well-rounded educational experience at Stanford, adding a strong artistic presence to the disciplinary mix, infusing complexity, ethics, and culture into discussions around what the future may be. As the Cantor’s prominence on campus grows, the next Director will take further advantage of Stanford’s immense resources to continue its upward trajectory.

 

Further, the Director will imagine and execute a long-term vision for the Cantor that articulates the future of what a university museum can be. The Director will need to work collaboratively with various constituencies to develop broad support for this vision, and then align resources – human, physical, and financial – to execute on that vision. The new Director will also communicate this vision with internal and external audiences, leading to a demonstrated uptick in clarity and awareness about the Cantor’s mission, values, and focus areas. The next Director will bring a strong understanding of curation to this vision, and will make key hires to help elevate the Cantor’s curatorial reputation.

 

Become Indispensable to Stanford’s Teaching Mission and Academic Life

One of the key functions of a university-based museum is to facilitate teaching and training—from hosting classroom sessions for object-based art history learning, to exhibiting artists from the university community, to inviting graduate students to curate exhibitions, to being a resource for students seeking careers in the art world. The Cantor is already actively engaged in many of these areas, especially in alignment with the Department of Art & Art History, but can also work to reduce barriers to engagement and extend dialogues across multiple arenas of knowledge. The Director should seek out opportunities to marry art with Stanford’s strengths in science, technology, medicine, and other fields, not just for the benefit of arts-inclined students and faculty, but the entire university. The Cantor should be hard-wired into the university—not in lieu of its museum functions, but in combination with them. A key part of this integration involves maximizing opportunities for joint impact and collaboration between Stanford’s arts units.


 

 

Build a State-of-the-Art, Socially Just Organizational Structure and Culture

To meet the expectations placed upon it, the Cantor needs to secure the financial capacities, operational infrastructure, management policies, sufficient and well-organized staffing, professional norms, and institutional culture of an up-to-date visual-arts institution. In this effort, the museum has the support of finance and HR partners in the central office of the VPA as well as colleagues in the Office of Development; the Director will need to work effectively within this networked structure. Importantly, the Director will work to improve the Cantor’s organizational culture, building on work currently underway during the leadership transition, and encouraging and modeling an atmosphere of listening and responding, collaboration and empowerment, curiosity, inclusivity, tolerance for risk-taking, open communication, and respect. The Director will need to approach change with both boldness and sensitivity and will employ excellent interpersonal skills to build buy-in proactively and collaboratively.

 

Engage the University’s Diverse Communities

A singular challenge is that although the museum is much loved by its active users, other segments of the university community are less engaged with it. The Cantor must proactively explore opportunities to reach Stanford’s diverse communities and visiting audiences: students and faculty from across the campus, from Stanford’s neighboring residential communities and the wider Bay area, and increasingly, online. Importantly, the Cantor must aspire to be a welcoming place and resource for all members of the community. Lowering obstacles to engagement will be a key priority, and part of a field-wide momentum toward making the arts more accessible. University consultation has revealed that some students of color and international students do not feel that the Cantor is speaking to them and sensitively embracing their heritage and interests. The new Director will lead boldly in building relationships with those groups and other constituencies, making the Cantor a model for how university museums can lead the way in addressing systemic issues around equity and inclusion.

 

Create a Vibrant Gathering Point for the Campus

While collections, exhibitions, and exchanges around art and ideas represent the core of the Cantor, like any museum, it is also a place that plays a role in the larger ecology of the university. The Cantor is blessed with beautiful architecture and gardens, and a prominent campus location. Going forward, it can become a more vibrant and welcoming gathering place for the intersecting communities of the campus and the surrounding region. To do so, it will need to develop responsive programming with broad appeal, involve students and community organizations in such efforts, make physical adjustments, adapt opening hours, and embrace a more open and reciprocal posture in its communications. The new Director should take full advantage of Stanford resources to position the Cantor at the heart of campus life.  

 

Model the Art Institution of the Future

Finally, the Cantor can summon Stanford’s intellectual capacities to advance new ways of looking and thinking about the arts and to reform cultural institutions—as a laboratory for tomorrow’s art world and a convener of dialogues that explore innovation around art. The Cantor has exceptional opportunities to facilitate a dialogue between the arts and sciences, as well as other disciplines, like business and law. Given Stanford’s outsize role in digital innovation, the Cantor could be the place where art institutions negotiate transformative and disruptive changes as advances in technology leave a mark not just on museums and markets, but on our fundamental conceptions of art, art inquiry, and art experience.

 

The Role

This is an opportunity for the incoming Director, delivering on the previously enumerated aspirations, to provide vision, managerial acumen, and a keen sense of embracing opportunity and prioritizing action.  This individual will report to Vice President for the Arts, and will collaborate closely with the other four units of the Office of the Vice President for the Arts: the Anderson Collection at Stanford University, Stanford Live, the Institute for Diversity in the Arts, and the Stanford Arts Institute. The Director oversees the staff and volunteers at the museum and oversees the Cantor’s annual operating budget of $9M. This is an ongoing, non-faculty, Senior Staff appointment at the university.

 

The Leadership Profile

While no candidate will have all of the following qualities, the successful candidate will demonstrate many:

 

A seasoned motivator and manager

  • Able to articulate clear values and a sense of purpose, including what it means to be a university museum
  • Strategic thinker who sets goals and priorities, while also being a doer with a genuine interest in hands-on execution
  • Tremendous relationship building and staff management skill
  • Able to play the role of conductor while giving latitude to team members; an open and congenial manager able to attract, mentor, and empower staff while creating a positive and productive work environment
  • Comfortable with actively cultivating individual and corporate donors, foundations, government programs and other funding sources, with a strong record of success in donor relations and with diverse fundraising strategies
  • Ambitious with a record of building a strong leadership team and retaining staff
  • An out of the box thinker, ideally who understands and is familiar with museums

 

Committed to an inclusive, open, and equitable museum

  • A sincere advocate for racial justice and equity
  • Able and willing to negotiate nuances of race, class, gender, disability, and other forms of diversity authentically, with respect for difference
  • Significant impact in building more diverse, equitable and inclusive cultures
  • Experience with leading staff through a process of change and self-assessment
  • Committed to reaching out to students and faculty from diverse backgrounds
  • A genuine interest for Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, and other communities in the wider Bay Area

 

An experienced and recognized professional

  • Understands how museums and non-profit institutions operate, with strong financial acumen and organizational skills
  • Aware of norms, requirements, and operating structures of an up-to-date museum
  • Pursues policies and procedures for the growth, care, study, publication, exhibition, de-accessioning, and accessibility of the permanent collection according to the highest professional standards
  • Understands and puts in perspective the evolving role of technology in all aspects of museum practice
  • A point of view on museum accreditation and ideally implementation experience, if such a process is attempted
  • Employs a keen understanding of the curatorial landscape
  • Able to activate a large network of connections to the global art field
  • Strong budget management acumen and fundraising skills
  • Capable of attracting loans and traveling exhibitions from US and international museums
  • An innovator comfortable with risk who sees opportunities and steers toward them
  • An advocate for Cantor in the museum field
  • Bachelor's degree and 10 years of relevant experience

 

A nurturer of connections within and beyond the university

  • Comfortable and conversant with many sectors of the university including academics, senior administration, a talented museum and VPA staff, and the public at large
  • A multi-disciplinary thinker who can operationalize the dynamism of Stanford with curiosity and a personal touch to reach across professional borders and intellectual disciplines
  • Ability to translate research and scholarship into broadly compelling opportunities for engagement

 

A person with exceptional human qualities and integrity

  • Strong communicator and effective advocate who demonstrates passion and expertise
  • Excellent people skills to interact with and relate to the community 
  • A diplomat and proactive communicator with internal and external stakeholders, able to reach comfortably across professional and social boundaries and hierarchies
  • Personal ability to attract and steward donors and bring new resources to the Cantor
  • High EQ, attuned to the complexities of interpersonal dynamics and empowers people to do their best work
  • Persuasive and able to leverage connections from friends and alumni
  • Has excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • Leads with empathy and respect

 

Applications, Inquiries, and Nominations

Screening of complete applications will begin immediately and continue until the completion of the search process.

  • Inquiries, nominations, and referrals should be sent via the Isaacson, Miller website for the search: https://www.imsearch.com/search-detail/S7-969.
  • Applications consisting of a cover letter and resume should be submitted at 

 

The job duties listed are typical examples of work performed by positions in this job classification and are not designed to contain or be interpreted as a comprehensive inventory of all duties, tasks, and responsibilities. Specific duties and responsibilities may vary depending on department or program needs without changing the general nature and scope of the job or level of responsibility. Employees may also perform other duties as assigned.

Consistent with its obligations under the law, the University will provide reasonable accommodation to any employee with a disability who requires accommodation to perform the essential functions of his or her job.

Stanford is an equal employment opportunity and affirmative action employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

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