Timothy F. Rub, 69, who took up the reins of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2009 in the wake of the sudden death of his formidable predecessor, Anne d’Harnoncourt, and pulled off a massive, years-long series of construction projects, has announced he will be retiring early next year.
The announcement Friday follows a difficult year and a half for the museum marked by a pandemic-induced shutdown, controversy following inappropriate and abusive behavior on the part of museum managers, calls for greater racial and gender equity in hiring and promotions, and the formation of the first museum-wide staff union.
Rub has said he wanted to step down as director and chief executive before his 70th birthday (in March 2022), and now that the latest, penultimate phase of construction is complete and the interior of the 1928 neo-classical building has been largely transformed, he decided that it is time.
“I have some very-long-deferred research and writing projects that I want to accomplish and one specific book project that I need to get to,” Rub said in an interview. “And secondly, I just want to spend more time with family. I’ve missed a lot of birthdays and a lot of family events because of my job, and I’d like to begin to rebalance that.”
Rub, who had previously headed the Cleveland Museum of Art for three years, said he will continue to help run the museum on a consulting basis following his formal retirement at the end of January. The museum’s board of trustees will immediately begin its search for his successor, according to Leslie Anne Miller, board chair. She said the search will cast “the widest possible net for the best possible talent.”
Rub’s departure marks a significant changing of the guard at the museum. Gail Harrity, longtime president and chief operating officer, and Alice Beamsderfer, deputy director of collections and exhibitions, both recently stepped down. Hyunsoo Woo, previously head of the East Asian Art Department and curator of Korean Art, has succeeded Beamsderfer. No successor has been named for Harrity.
While he did not initiate the plan for the museum’s transformation, which was d’Harnoncourt’s doing, Rub brought patience and focus to a process that has now gone on since architect Frank Gehry produced a master plan for the museum complex in 2006.
“It was a task that Timothy undertook with his eyes wide open,” Miller said. “Timothy knew this was going on. And it was part of his ongoing responsibilities, along with raising the money to pay for it. And I would say that the way Timothy handled it is exemplified by where we find ourselves with the project itself today. Completed. Open to great public and private acclaim.”
Construction is not over — a new auditorium, a new education center, and new galleries beneath the terrace overlooking the Benjamin Franklin Parkway remain for the future —but Rub brought the whole to a much-needed rest-stop clearing amidst the forest of looming construction cranes and glades rife with fund-raising galas.
Miller said there is still some outstanding debt from the $233 million core project that will be paid for “in the most responsible of ways.”
The museum normally attracts roughly 750,000 visitors annually. This year officials estimate attendance in the neighborhood of 511,000, due to construction and the pandemic. A major Jasper Johns exhibition due this fall, mounted simultaneously with the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, is expected to draw 80,000 to 90,000 visitors, barring a full-scale resurgence of the pandemic. In normal times, the Johns exhibit might see double that level of attendance, officials said.
Even as the core project and attendant fund-raising were in full swing, other difficult, long-simmering problems boiled over, calling for urgent attention from Rub and the museum board.
In January of 2020, the New York Times and The Inquirer reported that a museum middle manager had tried to manipulate female subordinates in exchange for dates. That allegation led to further revelations reported in The Inquirer outlining abusive behavior on the part of another museum supervisor.
The museum faced widespread anger and disappointment from its staff following the reports. And within a little more than a month the museum closed as the pandemic spread.
With the rise of Black Lives Matter last summer, the museum’s relationship with Philadelphia’s Black community and other communities of color came under scrutiny. This led to calls for greater staff diversity.
Rub and the board moved to address gender and equity issues, albeit slowly, hiring a deputy director of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access, Alphonso Atkins Jr. Currently chief diversity officer at the University of South Carolina Upstate, he does not begin his new duties until Aug. 16.
Miller said that the museum’s internal culture “needed attention,” noting that diversity training has already been implemented for board and staff.
“Timothy has confronted them, not shied away from the problems,” she said. “He has rolled up his sleeves and begun to deal with the problems, intensely, systematically, and constructively, so that at this point, while we have by no means solved those problems, I think it fair to say that we have made significant progress in beginning to address them.”
In August of 2020, the museum’s staff voted overwhelmingly to form a union affiliated with AFSCME District Council 47. Museum management and union representatives are currently engaged in the initial collective bargaining talks.
Adam Rizzo, a member of the Art Museum’s education department who is president of Local 397 of AFSCME, said he was encouraged by some of the recent negotiating sessions, but declined to say much about the museum’s leadership change.
“We wish him well and look forward to negotiating with management,” said Rizzo.
Staff writer Peter Dobrin contributed to this story.