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President of Museum of Latin American Art resigns unexpectedly after less than two years

January 25, 2011 |  6:17 pm

RichardTownsendMOLAAStephenHolman Giving little notice and surprising its board co-chairs, Richard P. Townsend has stepped down as president of the Museum of Latin American Art after less than two years in its top spot, the museum announced Tuesday. 

It's the third change at the top for the Long Beach museum in little more than 3 1/2 years since completing a $15-million expansion and renovation in 2007. "It caught us a little bit by surprise" when Townsend said he was resigning about a week and a half ago, said co-chair Mike Deovlet. "It isn't anything we'd had discussions about."

"He met with us and said he wanted to pursue other opportunities," said Burke Gumbiner, the other co-chair. "It was voluntary. We thanked him for his contribution. We like the artistic program and are going to continue the artistic program."

Townsend could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

The museum will engage a search firm and begin hunting soon for its next leader. "Our goal is to recruit a president who will stay longer than two years," said Gumbiner, whose  father, physician and hospital builder Robert Gumbiner, made a fortune in managed health care and was the museum's driving force, key funder and provider of the core of its art collection from its inception in 1996 until his death two years ago at 85.

Townsend arrived in May 2009 after working as deputy director for external affairs at the Miami Art Museum and director of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Price Tower Arts Center in Bartlesville, Okla. Within two months of his arrival, in what the co-chairs cite as a "critical move," he hired another Miami art administrator, Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, as chief curator. She had been running the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation there after previously directing a contemporary art space in Caracas, Venezuela.

Emphasizing that the museum is not in the throes of instability despite the rapid changes in its top executive position, Gumbiner said that Fajardo-Hill and the museum's head fundraiser, another Townsend hire, "are staying and are happy here."

Gumbiner and Deovlet, longtime business manager of the elder Gumbiner, have been on the board since the museum opened. Together with a number of longtime staffers, they said, they ensure continuity and a strong institutional memory.

Gregorio Luke led the museum from 1999 to August 2007, when he left as director to pursue a career as an independent scholar-lecturer who brings his illustrated art and culture talks with large-scale projections to the museum and other Southern California venues. His successors, under the new title of president, were Robert J. Myers, former head of the city of Torrance's cultural services division, and Townsend.

The hope, said the co-chairs, is to find a new president who has an art background and strong managerial credentials, who can work with what they feel is a strong existing curatorial staff. The museum attracts about 60,000 visitors a year, offering three major shows and three smaller ones.

One possible attraction for a new president could be its solid financial footing, thanks to a $25-million bequest from Robert Gumbiner that has been about 80% paid as his estate is settled. Operating expenses were $4.4 million in 2009, according to the museum's most recent audited financial statement. Expected earnings from the endowment cover about a quarter of that.

"Dr. Gumbiner had tremendous vision, and when he set up the museum he wanted to make sure its financial security would be ensured," Deovlet said.


Museum of Latin American Art to present rare show of Siqueiros landscape paintings

Museum of Latin American Art names new president

Museum of Latin American Art gets a new chief curator

 -- Mike Boehm

Photo: Richard P. Townsend. Credit: Stephen Holman


Comments () | Archives (5)

To Donald Frazzell - Here is your dream job. Run with it.

I am not latino, though my wife is black and ex Jamaican, still doesnt count. Should have a Latino head such a museum, there are plenty of qualified candidates from all around the western Hemisphere. I could however paint the exterior to make it look less like a taco bell. It is an excellent museum, Gregorio Luke should come back. It is absurd how LA art shows such little influence from our south. Only Carlos Almaraz has here in LA. The rest just decorations.

Please DON"T go contempt, stick with Latino which is still under the sway of true Modernism. How about a Rufino Tamayo retrospective? Perhaps the greatest painter in ALL of the America's. Americans are so vain and myopic, we are not the end all of art, just a market place that feeds the spending frenzy of hee self absorbed, therapeutic, game playing, colorless, souless, pseudo intellectual investment commodities of contempt "art".

Save the Watts Towers(Nuestro Pueblo should be connected to MoLAA with bus tours and support, as LACMA wont, just playing a PC PR game), tear down the museo/gallery/academic Ivory Towers.
(no latin tag lines, this time)

An average visitation of 1.150 people a week is dismal considering Molaa'recent expansion and Los Angeles's "huge" Hispanic population (ojo...of largely Mexican heritage)... Mr. Townsend will not be missed.

Another reason why a latino, one who is fluent in Spanish and not just a white bread version, must be director. One who can make alliances with other ethnic groups in LA, and create a web of bus tours and interaction to the Watts Towers, Autry for Native American being the antecedents of the Conquest. Korean and other Asian groups like Cambodians and vietnamese. Philipinos are a large population in the LBC, and Spanish influenced in language and customs. Have a show of the Spanish colonies of the Caribbean and Pacific.

And get into the huge Mexican population not just the obvious Frida/Rivera thing, but Tamayo and those locals like Carlos Almaraz. Sponsor a music festival, more than one. Food tasting, cars as they are huge in true street art, not the MoCA kind of wannabe artistes, but craftsmen and housing designers.
One cannot stand pat. move on, it doesnt have to be expensive. But a big show every few years to get the isolated Westsiders and hill folk of posh LA down into the real City.

The possibilities are huge, open up to the world that surrounds us, not just wealthy donors. Latin art is most likely the strongest at the moment, and the future with the Olympics in Brazil. Participate in their Biennale in Sao Paolo, work with theirs and Columbian and Venezeulan museums. Time to take a leadership role in all cultural aspects of Latin culture, msot of the great foods come from here. Tomatoes, cocoa, vanilla, hot peppers, potatoes, coca, well, OK maybe not that.

The LBC is a great place to live and raise a family, reach out to US, those with children. Not just typical art fests from time to time, but sponsor real lessons in music too. A Latin jazz fest would be great, and needed. Just get Poncho Sanchez and let him negotiate. Cuba is slowly opening up, and the arts natural and highly skilled, time to make a deal. Lets get this done.

Jose Rizo's Jazz on the Latin Side is about to come up at 7pm on KJAZ 88.1, why no connection there? It is obvious and beneficial to both, he has his own band and could get old locals like War together again also. The area with Bellflower/Artesia/Cerritos is the most integrated in the country, and perhaps world. Reach out, we are all waiting. This is a center of art and music to be combined as great as anywhere.

Time to throw out the old model of museums, a new age beckons. People tire of contemporary art, I have been having art lessons at work simply by leaving out books and answering questions. Got several interested Salvadoreno's and Mexicanos. Really love Gauguin's work, especially when they see he was raised in Peru and is on his mothers side. His colors are very Latino, violets, greens and oranges with rich browns. Secondary with splashes of primaries. I have taken some to a gallery opening they felt, though rare it happens, regular folks are far more intelligent than you think. If you give them something relevant and real, of family and life, not theory and attitude..

They laugh when they see contemporary art, yet are amazed how relaxed and reachable Modern art is. Tamayo makes sense, Picasso energizes, Miro is poetic, early Botero funny, yet sensual. Most Latino art is still heavily Modern adn Not contemporary which is all vanity and exhibitionism. Get it out there, and they will come. Ally with KJAZ right here in Long Beach, with latino music stations. Music and art belong together, the academic seperation is what has led to the disconnect with our people. time to dance, with all our sensations alive.


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