Robert McDonald, the Laguna Beach Museum of Art’s chief curator for 11 months, has been dismissed as a “budget saving” move, museum officials said this week. The dismissal was effective June 1.

The officials said the museum--which soon will start construction on an $850,000 expansion and renovation of the museum’s main site in Laguna Beach--is faced with major “fiscal constraints and reevaluations.”

In a phone interview, McDonald, 52, said of the decision to let him go, “It was something of a surprise. It’s my understanding that the board and Bill Otton (museum director) felt it was too much of a (fiscal) burden at this time to have a chief curator. So they decided to eliminate the post.”

Otton, who is attending a meeting of the American Assn. of Museums in Detroit, was not available for comment. Ted Paulson, board president, said, “Everything (for the museum) is tentative now--planning, budget, construction. All this has had its effect on whether to keep his (McDonald’s) post. We decided not to, at least for now.”


The appointment of McDonald to the $25,000-a-year job as the museum’s first chief curator was announced with much fanfare a year ago. McDonald’s credentials were considered strong: he was former chief curator of the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art and previously had been director of the Art Museum of Santa Cruz County.

In Laguna Beach, McDonald was instrumental in establishing more active acquisitions and art-donation programs and in opening the museum’s “satellite site” in South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.

“I’m very disappointed, of course, in leaving,” he said. “My roots are here in Orange County, and this (Laguna Beach) museum is well on its way to becoming an important regional complex.”

As part of the same “budget saving” move, museum representatives said there is no immediate plan to replace the museum’s education curator, Suzanne Paulson, who resigned June 1.


The museum’s projected 1985-86 operating budget is $450,000 to $500,000, and it is seeking to raise $850,000 for construction and $650,000 for program expansions. Museum officials say the fund-raising is $200,000 short of that $1.5-million goal.

The main facility was closed to the public April 26, and ground breaking for the project took place last week. The main site is scheduled to be reopened next May with a retrospective of Elmer Bischoff works.