Marla K. Shoemaker, a veteran of nearly a half-century at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is retiring, museum head Timothy Rub announced to the staff in an email Wednesday.
Shoemaker is senior curator of education and head of the division of education and public programs.
“Marla told me some time ago of her desire to step away, but graciously agreed to my request to stay on a bit longer both to oversee planning for the renewal and expansion of our educational activities after the completion of the core [construction] project, and to enable us to defer the start of a national search for her successor until this year,” Rub wrote. “She has more than fulfilled this commitment and recently indicated to me that she is ready to move on.”
In a letter to Rub dated Jan. 31, Shoemaker said she had felt “for some time that the moment has come to step down and turn my attention to other things." She said the approach of the completion of the core project, the museum’s transformative building effort due to wrap up in September, “is an opportune moment to seek new leadership in education.”
Shoemaker began work at the museum right out of Oberlin College in 1973.
Rub cited the “continued expansion of our educational programming over the past two decades,” as well as the introduction of many initiatives for K-12 schools, as part of her legacy.
In the last several months, in addition to overseeing the museum’s educational efforts, Shoemaker has had to field a number of concerns growing from the employment of Joshua R. Helmer, a former museum manager who worked closely with education and outreach efforts.
Helmer was the subject of a New York Times article last month that reported he entered into relationships with females at the museum who were subordinate to him in rank while dangling possibilities for professional advancement.
He declined to discuss his relationships with the Times, saying only that he followed museum policy. Of his separation from the Philadelphia museum, he said, “It was just my time. I was looking for new opportunities.”
Helmer left the museum in 2018 and subsequently was hired as director of the Erie Art Museum. He departed Erie in the wake of the Times report.
Among other things, in November Shoemaker informed the staff that Helmer had been barred from the museum.