After the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture fired executive director Forrest Rodgers in February, the museum's board of directors initiated a search for a new director to guide the organization forward. The MAC was coming off a successful Lego exhibit and awaiting the arrival of a high-profile Egyptian show, but there was work to be done in the wake of Rodgers' dismissal.
Now, more than 10 months since have passed since the MAC has had an actual executive director. The museum's deputy director, John Moredo-Burich, served as interim director during the search, but was recently replaced by Tim Carney, a former U.S. ambassador and the husband of a MAC board member who floated his name for the job. The search continues for someone to lead the museum while it operates with a few band-aids in place, including a new board president, as the century-old Browne's Addition institution prepares for one of its biggest ever exhibits.
New board president Donna Weaver, who's led a number of successful businesses in Coeur d'Alene since arriving there in the early 1990s, says that the board nearly had a candidate who'd flown out to Spokane a couple of times, but that fell through because the search committee neglected to include the pay of the position on the job listing.
"We had assumed that he'd gone on the government website and figured out how much the job was going to pay. But after we made the offer, we were told that it was $100,000 less than he was already making," says Weaver, who had been on the MAC board for more than five years before becoming president last month after Toni Pessemier stepped down.
The board then looked to find a temporary replacement for the spot, considering that Moredo-Burich would need to devote attention to the upcoming Titans of the Ice Age exhibit that opens on Feb. 11 and requires 8,500 square feet of the museum's space. Weaver says that Victoria Butler, a board member who had previously worked to bring a United Arab Emirates art exhibit to the MAC, mentioned that former U.S. ambassadors often take part-time or temporary leadership positions. It just so happens that Butler's husband, Tim Carney, is a former ambassador to Haiti and Sudan. He also oversaw the economic rebuilding of Iraq in 2007 at the appointment of then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
The board voted — with Butler recusing herself — to hire Carney to an interim position in early December that's expected to last three months. Carney and Butler live in Washington, D.C., but have connections to Spokane through Butler's family. The couple has secured a temporary residence in Spokane while Carney serves at the MAC. He's being paid $6,250 per month and not taking state benefits.
Following the hiring, Butler stepped down from the board, which didn't make efforts to publicize Carney's hiring.
"We did not make a big deal of this at the time. No big splash was necessary — this is a 90-day deal, then we're going to make a big announcement of our hire," says Weaver, who later acknowledged that the board could have made the hiring more public.
Carney acknowledges that although his MAC tenure will be brief, there is work to be done, some of which includes examining how to improve on past mistakes. Past director Rodgers was initially fired in 2012, then rehired, before wading into one controversy after another. A state investigation in 2013 concluded that his leadership had a "significant and detrimental impact" on the museum. This year, Rodgers was fired by a board frustrated by his missed deadlines and "insubordination," before yet another state investigation concluded that Rodgers had violated state ethics law, improperly been paid bonuses and attempted to interfere with a whistleblower investigation.
Carney is focusing on increasing the museum's membership, which in addition to private donations and allocated money from the state is a key part of the MAC's funding model.
"It's critical and it's something we're working on. We need to get the word out that membership is the only sensible way to sustain the museum," says Carney.
He also is well aware of the communication problems that plagued the MAC and were included in the state's investigations into Rodgers' tenure. He calls communication the top priority of his time at the museum.
"Regardless of the organization, the essence of communication is that you have to structure it so that different departments are talking to each other. That is something we can work on here," he says.
Carney also acknowledged that both he and the board are working to ensure that tribal leaders have a voice at the museum (which oversees a collection of Native American artifacts), which has been an issue in the past. He also says that the MAC could improve the way it works with its benefactors, and hopes to make them feel more a part of the museum, rather than just writing a check.
The board is on target to have a new director selected in February, but no official date has been set. ♦
Currently on display at the MAC
• Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science
• Best of Broadway costume exhibit
• Linda Hyatt Cancel paintings
• My Spokane: A vintage look at Spokane through the screenprints of Chris Bovey