OCMA names Todd DeShields Smith as new director

An interior view of the the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The Orange County Museum of Art has been without a director since the end of 2013, leading many in the local art world to speculate about the executive search being conducted by museum leaders.

On Wednesday, the Newport Beach museum announced that it has named Todd DeShields Smith as its new chief executive and director. Smith has served as executive director of the Tampa Museum of Art in Florida for the last six years.

Smith will begin his term at OCMA on Aug. 4. He succeeds Dennis Szakacs, who served as the director and CEO of the museum for 10 years before stepping down in 2013.


In a prepared statement, OCMA President Craig Wells said that Smith “has achieved distinction throughout his career by providing strong leadership and achieving successful strategic direction at world-class arts institutions.”

Before heading the Tampa Museum of Art, Smith held leadership positions at the Gibbs Museum of Art in Charleston, S.C., and the Knoxville Museum of Art in Tennessee.

Among other tasks, Smith will be expected to resume OCMA’s long-stalled transition from Newport Beach to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. The museum has yet to break ground on a new building at the Segerstrom and fundraising for the project is in limbo.

Smith has experience when it comes to overseeing new museum buildings. In 2010, he opened the Tampa museum’s new home -- a $32 million facility featuring 66,000 square feet of space designed by architect Stanley Saitowitz.

OCMA said it conducted an international search to identify a new director and met with several potential candidates.

The museum is the most prominent modern and contemporary art institution in Orange County. It organized the California Biennial -- now the California-Pacific Triennial -- which has become an increasingly high-profile showcase for contemporary artists on the West Coast.


In 2009, OCMA was at the center of a controversy over its quiet sale of 18 California Impressionist paintings to a private collector. Szakacs defended the museum’s decision at the time, telling the Los Angeles Times that the transaction was executed with a high level of transparency.

Smith holds degrees from Indiana University and Duke University. “My family and I look forward to calling Orange County home and being an active member of the arts community throughout Southern California,” he said in a statement.