Gail Harrity, president and chief operating officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, will be stepping down, the museum announced Friday.
She plans to hang up her hardhat at the end of March.
Harrity, 70, who joined the museum in 1997 as chief operating officer and was named president in 2009, has been on top of virtually every building project of note at the museum for the last 15 years.
And there have been plenty, including the current extensive interior construction effort known inside the museum as the “Core Project.”
Her decision to step down on March 31, 2021, certainly suggests that the Core Project will finally come to completion.
“I’m excited to be able to bring closure to the Core Project in collaboration with [architect] Frank Gehry, and to help position the museum for continued success,” said Harrity.
The project, originally scheduled for a gala unveiling this month, has been delayed by the pandemic. Both the museum and construction project shut down in mid-March, but Gov. Tom Wolf’s office deemed the Core Project “essential” in May, and construction resumed, albeit at a much slower pace due to various virus-related restrictions.
The museum reopens to the general public on Sunday.
“During her 23 years of service, Gail Harrity has done many remarkable things, and has proven herself to be not only a gifted leader but also a passionate and effective advocate for the Philadelphia Museum of Art both here and abroad,” said Timothy Rub, museum director and chief executive.
Before coming to PMA, Harrity worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain, where she was instrumental in building and executing the strategic plan to construct the landmark building designed by Gehry.
Leslie Anne Miller, chair of the museum’s board, said much of the credit for the transformation of the PMA’s physical space — whether the addition of a massive underground parking garage topped by a new sculpture garden, or the acquisition and construction of what is now the Perelman Building across Kelly Drive, or the vast and complex Core Project — belongs to Harrity.
The Core Project saw the museum remain open (before the pandemic shutdown) even though its interior was being ripped apart and rebuilt, adding 25,000 square feet of gallery space for contemporary and American art.
Harrity has “remained focused” on the physical renewal of the museum for two decades, Miller said and lauded her for it.
“The Core Project represents a major step forward for this institution,” Harrity said in a statement.
She noted that the project worked its transformational change not through expansion across the landscape, but by looking within, utilizing the imagination of Gehry to find 90,000 square feet of new public space (including the new galleries); adding an unusual open interior, dubbed the Forum; and reopening a historic walkway that traverses the entire building from Kelly Drive to the Schuylkill.
“I am honored to have played a critical role in [the Core Project’s] development and look forward to guiding it to anticipated completion in early 2021,” Harrity said.
“For this reason, it made sense for me to focus my efforts until the end of March on this work. It represents a new chapter in the history of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and will open a new set of possibilities for engaging audiences to continue to serve our community and, at the same time, attract visitors from across the country and throughout the world.”
Museum officials said Harrity’s departure was unrelated to the turmoil that has afflicted the institution this year. In January, it was reported by the New York Times that a former PMA manager, Joshua Helmer, had sought personal relationships with junior female staffers while dangling prospects for career advancement.
The next month, The Inquirer reported that another former manager, James A. Cincotta, physically abused employees.
Those incidents brought a wave of employee dissatisfaction and mistrust to the forefront, with which the museum is still grappling.