A retired Los Angeles city personnel executive with no previous museum experience was named Wednesday as the executive director of the Southwest Museum, the prominent American Indian art and history center in Mt. Washington.
The museum, which had been without a permanent top officer since November, 1987, appointed Jerome R. Selmer to the new position of executive director, in which he will handle financial and business affairs.
The museum named a new head curator, Jonathan Batkin, seven months ago. Batkin oversees the museum’s collection, acquisitions and scholarly activities. James A. Dickason, president of the museum’s Board of Trustees, said the previous museum director position was restructured into two new jobs because a search for a single replacement was unsuccessful.
The museum, which has a $1.2-million annual budget and a full-time staff of 40, has reported recent dramatic gains in attendance and income, Selmer said.
The naming of Selmer, 56, to the top executive post completed a new management team for the museum, which was seriously disrupted in late 1987 by the departure of former museum director Patrick Houlihan.
Houlihan’s resignation came after the Southwest Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History initiated secret merger talks. The negotiations were called off after Houlihan’s resignation and the merger proposal was made public and a variety of public and private officials, including City Councilman Richard Alatorre, voiced strenuous opposition.
Selmer held several top administrative posts in a 31-year career with Los Angeles that ended with his retirement in January. Immediately before his retirement, he served as assistant city administrative officer and employee relations administrator.
He said he brings to his new job an “executive leadership background” as well as “a strong personal interest to the museum and its field.” He said he has been interested in Indian artifacts and the history of the Southwest for many years.
“I think what we want to try to do here is enhance the existing situation,” he said. “I view this as one of the outstanding museums. We want to enhance that image.”
Selmer said no merger or affiliation with any other museum is currently under consideration. He said such a plan was probably not possible “in the foreseeable future.”
Batkin noted that, after the merger talks fell apart, the Museum of Natural History intensified an effort to expand its own exhibition facilities for American Indian art and artifacts. He conceded that the two programs may find themselves in competition for both private and federal grant money.
“I’m not sure we’ll be competing for people (attendance) so much as we may be competing for dollars,” Batkin said of the situation. “There are so many places to turn for money. I suppose there may be some (individuals and organizations) who may simultaneously get proposals.”