Daniel Finley, whose tenure as president of L.A.’s Autry National Center of the American West ended abruptly two years ago, is returning as leader of another, much smaller Southern California museum, Muzeo in Anaheim.
Muzeo announced Wednesday that Finley will start his new job as its chief executive July 1; he was not immediately available for comment but said in a statement announcing his hiring that “I can't wait to get started to make Muzeo the centerpiece of Anaheim’s downtown renaissance and to grow it to attract visitors from throughout the region.”
Muzeo doesn’t have a collection of art or artifacts, but books touring exhibitions on art, history and nature while adding some locally organized shows and offering education programs. Its current exhibition is “Transcending Trash: the Art of Upcycling,” featuring artworks made from refuse, primarily by Southern California artists and curated by Matthew Leslie, director of exhibitions at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton.
Finley will be Muzeo’s third chief executive since its 2007 opening. He’d had a long career in politics and government as the elected county executive of Wisconsin’s Waukesha County before being asked in 2005 to help right the financially struggling Milwaukee Public Museum, a natural history and science museum. Finley was credited with helping engineer a financial turnaround after it had fallen into debt.
When he arrived at the Autry in 2010 after five years leading the Milwaukee museum, Finley said in an interview that “being a museum president is being part P.T. Barnum; there needs to be a degree of showmanship.” But his tenure was more taken up with nuts-and-bolts matters – overseeing early steps toward renovating a Burbank warehouse as a new collection storage facility and library, helping to secure a $6.6-million state grant to cover the bulk of the cost of new permanent galleries to showcase the Autry’s prized collection of Native American art and artifacts, and dealing with the politically thorny and still unresolved issue of what to do about the 100-year-old Southwest Museum in Mount Washington, which the Autry took over in the early 2000s.
Finley’s exit from the Autry after two years in charge was announced in June 2012 along with the simultaneous naming of his successor, W. Richard West Jr. His departure was never fully explained; Finley didn’t comment at the time and Autry board chair Marshall McKay said simply that the parting had been amicable.
Finley, who lives in Dana Point in south Orange County, moved temporarily back to Wisconsin last fall as interim director of the Waukesha County Museum, devoted to local history and culture.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported at the time that Finley “was enjoying retirement” when he responded to a call from the Waukesha museum’s board chair to shepherd it for a few months, including fundraising and planning in the face of cuts in its government funding.
"I've become a museum workout guy," Finley told the Wisconsin newspaper. "I go to museums, especially those with difficult challenges, and get them back on their feet. That's what I believe my calling was.”
Arts Orange County, a service organization for the county’s nonprofit arts sector, has been managing Muzeo since late February. It conducted the leadership search that will return Finley to the Southern California museum world.
Richard Stein, Arts Orange County’s executive director, said Muzeo's board contracted with his organization to run the museum and carry out the leadership search after former director John Scola left for a fundraising job in Arizona. He said that Muzeo’s primary fall exhibition is already booked, but not ready to be announced.
“I think [Muzeo] is still establishing a strong identity in the community, and a lot of what Dan Finley will be working on is doing just that,” Stein said. “I think it has enormous potential that is still unrealized, so it needs strong leadership, someone with an outstanding background like Dan has in museum work and in government."
Finley’s government background gives him something in common with Muzeo’s board chair, Curt Pringle, a former state legislator and mayor of Anaheim whose tenure at City Hall saw Muzeo’s creation. The city built it alongside an early 20th century library building that had housed a local history museum and is now part of Muzeo.
Pringle, now the head of a public affairs consulting company, said in the written announcement of Finley’s hiring that he is “bringing outstanding experience in museum leadership, fundraising and government relations that will be key to the future success” of Muzeo.
The Muzeo Foundation’s most recent tax filing showed $778,000 in expenses in the fiscal year ending in mid-2013, including $228,000 to rent exhibitions. Scola earned $120,000 as executive director. Government funding was the primary revenue source, at $387,000, with an additional $208,000 in private donations and $64,000 from admissions. Muzeo had started the fiscal year $87,000 in the hole but shed the red ink by running a $145,000 surplus.
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