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Govan: LACMA management shakeup not about cost-cutting

August 18, 2011 |  9:00 am

LACMAUrbanLightChrisBurdenMuseumAssoc
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has shaken up its non-curatorial management team, firing several veteran department heads in what director Michael Govan says is not a financial belt-tightening, but a bid to better adapt to technology-driven change while shifting some priorities.

The management restructuring was triggered by the May retirement of Melody Kanschat, the museum’s president and chief operating officer. Among those let go last week were Thomas Frick, editor of LACMA’s exhibition catalogues and other publications, Barbara Pflaumer, associate vice president for communications and marketing, and Amy McFarland, head of graphics and design.

LACMA spokeswoman Miranda Carroll said that altogether seven people had been dismissed from the publications, graphics and design, communications and information services departments. Govan said that, with some new hires in the works, it’s possible the staff may shrink by a position or two, but that LACMA’s budget for 2011-12 calls for a 7% increase overall. He characterized the severance terms as “very generous.”

“It’s essentially the result of years of thinking about this fast-changing world we live in, and how to respond and take advantage of those changes,” Govan said Wednesday, noting that he’d discussed some of his ideas with Kanschat, whose departure after 22 years at LACMA had been announced in January and was, he said, her own decision.

Kanschat had reported to Govan, the museum’s chief executive. He said the position of president, which paid $555,500 in salary and benefits during 2009-10, is being eliminated.

 Among the new leaders promoted from within in the restructuring is Theresa Morello, who has moved from chief fundraiser to vice president for external affairs, a new position that oversees all departments relating to how the museum raises money, treats and attracts visitors and presents itself to the public. Melissa Bomes is now the chief fundraiser.

Amy Heibel, who had been in charge of LACMA’s website, will have expanded duties as associate vice president of technology and digital media, replacing Peter Bodell.

Among the changes that influenced his thinking, Govan said, were the advent of social media and shifts in the publishing industry that are leading LACMA to place more of its catalogues and publications online. Last year, LACMA established a “Reading Room” on its website so the public can access art books the museum has issued.  “It’s an interesting moment for museum publishing,” Govan said. “Traditional middle-cost books are not doing well, and we’re beginning to shift to e-books, although we’re not doing away with paper yet.” He said LACMA is readying the first e-book version of one of its exhibition catalogs, for last year’s show “Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915.”

Frick, the editor who lost his job last week in a technology-driven sweep, will soon emerge as a first-time novelist. Santa Fe-based Burning Books is publishing “The Iron Boys” 
on Nov. 1; its website says it’s about “a secret, quasi-Luddite band of rebels in the early 1800s” who destroy a textile mill.

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 -- Mike Boehm

Photo: Chris Burden's "Urban Light" installation at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Credit: LACMA

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