After 11 years, Museum of Art director leaves for Princeton

BY MALLORY JONES
For the Daily
Published January 29, 2009

One month after the opening of the newly renovated Museum of Art, Director James Steward plans to leave the University to take a job as the art director of the Princeton University Art Museum.

Steward, who has served as the Museum of Art’s director for 11 years, led the $41.9 million building project.

“I certainly feel very conflicted about it,” Steward said. “I certainly have been involved in the museum expansion from the very beginning and in many ways my blood, sweat and tears are in it.”

In his time at the University, Steward added 3,500 pieces of art to Michigan’s collection. Provost Teresa Sullivan said in an e-mail interview that she wishes Steward the best at Princeton.

"We are grateful for the visionary leadership of James Steward, under which the Museum of Art has become one of the most intellectually significant and forward-looking university art museums in the country,” Sullivan said. “During his tenure, the Museum has undertaken an energetic program of exhibitions, publications and outreach to enhance scholarship and encourage broader student engagement.”

Steward said that after years of planning and construction for the 53,000-square-foot addition to the University’s museum, he would like to “see it come alive.”

He said that when he decided to take the job at Princeton, he made sure he would be in Ann Arbor for the opening of the museum.

“I am really grateful for the experience I have had here,” Steward said. “And we will have achieved something, I hope, really important for the University.”

Steward said the size of Princeton’s collection — which it's website numbers at more than 68,000 pieces, compared to Michigan’s 19,000 — is one of the reasons he decided to take the position. He also cited the closer proximity to New York City and Philadelphia and the Princeton museum’s larger staff as reasons for his move.

“I was certainly offered a great opportunity to do some interesting things that I really also felt were going to build on the experiences I have had here,” Steward said. “When they came and offered me the opportunity in the end I felt I had to say yes.”

He also said the position would provide him with new challenges. The Princeton museum, with its broader historical resources, he said would allow him to use more of his art history background.

“For me it was a possibility of going a little bit back more to my own training as an academic art historian. I think there is going to be a different set of things possible to me there,” Steward said.

Provost Teresa Sullivan’s office will lead the search for a new art director. Sullivan will appoint an interim director and will chair a committee that will conduct the search for and hire a new director.

"Transition planning has already begun and the search committee will be formed very soon,” University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham wrote in an e-mail interview. “The committee will include representatives from the faculty, staff, student body and alumni.”

The renovated University of Michigan Art Museum will open to students on Mar. 24 and the public on Mar. 28.