Getty boss makes a case for keeping Trust management structure as is


This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

James Wood, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust, sent an e-mail to the Getty staff earlier this week, defending the management structure of the institution after a commentary in the Los Angeles Times recommended abolishing the job of Trust president.

Wood (pictured above) sent the in-house message, which was obtained by The Times, in response to art critic Christopher Knight’s argument that the Getty won’t function properly as long as its setup calls for trying to make four separate parts work as a unit.


Knight said it’s time to dismantle that structure, which has prevailed, often uneasily, since the 1980s. At the Getty, the museum director is not the top boss, as is the case almost everywhere else except for most university and municipal art museums. Instead, the museum director has a higher-up: the trust’s president. The museum director is on more or less equal footing with the directors of three other operations -- the Getty Foundation (for grantmaking), the Getty Research Institute (for art scholarship) and the Getty Conservation Institute (for protecting and repairing works not only in its own collection, but in projects worldwide).

Knight wrote that given the history of conflict between the Getty’s presidents and museum directors, which culminated in the sudden resignations of the last two museum directors, it’s time to let the museum director run the whole show. Make the change now, he urged, before continuing the search for a new museum director to replace Michael Brand, who resigned in January.

Wood’s response to the Getty staff is printed at the end of this post.

Interviewed on Wednesday, Wood said he is not concerned that well-qualified candidates for museum director might be deterred by a history of two resignations from that job in little more than five years, or by the fact that the director is under the trust president. ‘I’m sure you could find people out there who would say, legitimately, that they’d rather be in a position that doesn’t have that reporting structure,’ Wood said. ‘I don’t anticipate that being a problem in getting the best candidate for the job.’ He said the search began in February, and that its time frame is open-ended.

Insiders told The Times after Brand resigned that, among other things, Wood and Brand had clashed over how much the museum could draw from a major acquisitions and strategic initiatives fund that Wood had created in 2008, largely using money saved by streamlining support operations such as security, maintenance and information technology. In his memo to the Getty staff on Tuesday, Wood said museum acquisitions had accounted for $16.9 million of the $19.1 million spent from the fund so far.

The purse strings figure to be loosening at the Getty soon, after a year that saw its budget shrink 24%, from $284 million to $216 million. Wood said he will propose a $245-million budget for the year beginning July 1, with the Getty’s board expected to act at its meeting in June.

Unlike virtually all other American arts institutions, which count heavily on donations to meet their expenses, the Getty draws almost exclusively on earnings from the hefty endowment that oil baron J. Paul Getty created as a bequest. Wood said the policy is to use 5% of its investments’ value to fund annual operations. By early last year, as stocks continued to slide, the endowment had shrunk to $4.2 billion from a 2007 high of $6.4 billion. But by the end of 2009 the markets’ recovery had lifted the endowment close to $5 billion, making possible the anticipated 13.4% budget increase for 2010-11.


-- Mike Boehm