Long Beach art museum director is being replaced

Times Staff Writer

HAROLD NELSON has been pushed out after 17 1/2 years as director of the Long Beach Museum of Art, prompted at least partly by trustees' displeasure with his emphasis on craft exhibitions.

Nelson, 59, exited Nov. 27 from a job that had paid $123,600 in 2004, according to the museum's latest available tax return. He declined to comment Thursday, except via a prepared statement in which he cited his accomplishments at "this widely respected little jewel of a museum," including overseeing a $7-million expansion in 2000. Ron Nelson (no relation), the museum's development director and former board president, is serving as interim director.

"The change, we feel, is necessary for the future growth and vitality of the institution," Pamela Munzer, president of the board, said Wednesday, adding that the board concluded that a string of craft exhibitions under Harold Nelson became "more pervasive" than the public wanted.

More emphasis will be placed on the permanent collection of more than 5,000 artworks, she said. A search committee for a new director will be formed "in the very near future," Munzer added, with an eye toward finding "great management skills, artistic knowledge and, hopefully, lots of experience."

A knack for fundraising wouldn't hurt: The museum, with an annual budget of about $3.4 million, has been chronically deficit-ridden since the expansion doubled its space. Ron Nelson said that $2.4 million remains to be paid by 2009 as part of a bond-financing agreement with the city.

Harold Nelson's imprint on the museum will remain palpable for most of 2007: "Painting With Fire," an exhibition on 20th century American enamel painters he curated with Bernard Jazzar, opens Jan. 11 and continues into August.


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