Getty picks NYU provost as its next leader. Top of mind for her: environmental degradation
The world’s wealthiest arts institution, the J. Paul Getty Trust, has selected a new president and CEO: New York University Provost Katherine E. Fleming.
Fleming will replace longtime chief executive James Cuno, who has led the institution for more than a decade and will retire this summer. Fleming is a scholar of Mediterranean history, religion and culture and has served as NYU’s chief academic officer since 2016.
“Having a life and a career that allows you to spend a huge amount of time thinking about humanities and cultural artifacts is an incredible privilege,” Fleming said in an interview. “But I feel this instantiation of it, at the Getty, even more so. As trite as it sounds, I’m just super honored, kind of amazed. And I really, really look forward to working with a number of super-smart, interesting people.”
Environmental degradation and how it threatens artistic and cultural heritages globally is top of mind for Fleming, she said.
“Climate change is going to be one of the major, if not the major, defining features of human existence over the coming century or so,” she said. “I wouldn’t call it a vision, but awareness of that fact is something that informs my thinking in my current job and will certainly inform my thinking as I take the helm at the trust.”
That means addressing the issue as it relates to research, art conservation and grant making, in conversation with the directors of the Getty’s central programs. “And in terms of walking the walk, as well as talking the talk, I’d be interested to find out more about the Getty’s practices at home,” she added.
Fleming takes her post at a time when more women are leading Los Angeles’ arts institutions. Last fall, the Museum of Contemporary Art announced its first female director, Johanna Burton. Earlier in 2021, the California African American Museum appointed Cameron Shaw as executive director, and the Orange County Museum of Art named Heidi Zuckerman director. Sandra Jackson-Dumont, plucked from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, took her post in 2020 as director of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art under construction in Exposition Park.
That women lead so many major institutions here defies a trend highlighted in a 2017 study from the Assn. of Art Museum Directors and the National Center for Arts Research, which found that museum budgets in the U.S. play a role in the representation of women directors. The greater the budgets, the more male-centric leadership was, the study found. Among institutions with budgets of at least $15 million, the study reported, about 70% had male directors; among those with budgets under $15 million, 54% had women in director roles.
The Getty Trust endowment — which Fleming oversees — is $9.2 billion.
The J. Paul Getty Trust includes the J. Paul Getty Museum (the umbrella organization for the Getty Center in Brentwood and the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades) as well as the grant-issuing Getty Foundation, the Getty Research Institute and the Getty Conservation Institute. The four programs employ 1,400.
“In all sorts of arenas, embedded sexism against women is the most enduring feature of all global histories and geographies,” Fleming said. “As the proud product of a women’s college — I did my undergraduate work at Barnard — I’d say I’m particularly aware of how unusual it is, if no less shocked by how persistently unusual it is to have a woman in a position of this sort.”
In addition to having graduated from Barnard College with a bachelor’s in religion, Fleming earned a master’s in religion from the University of Chicago and a PhD in history from UC Berkeley. She lived in Santa Monica from 1994 to 1998, during which time she lectured at universities including UCLA, UC Riverside and Loyola Marymount.
Fleming also holds honorary doctorates from the University of Macedonia and Ionian University in Greece, where she was awarded honorary citizenship in 2015.
Getty Board Chair David Lee said in a statement that Fleming — who was the search committee’s unanimous choice — is “a visionary, experienced leader with an extensive understanding of global cultures and their importance in uniting all of us.”
After a prolonged pandemic and in a “critical” moment of social, economic and political upheaval, Lee added, Fleming may be “the ideal leader to guide one of the world’s largest, most complex cultural organizations and to continue Getty’s trajectory of supporting and sharing visual arts and culture for the greater public good.”
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