Laguna Art Museum brings on Julie Perlin Lee as new executive director

Julie Perlin Lee has been hired as the new executive director of the Laguna Art Museum.
(Courtesy of David Platinum)

The Laguna Art Museum has chosen Julie Perlin Lee as its next executive director.

A national search to fill the position was conducted by the museum following the retirement of Malcolm Warner, who served in the role from January 2012 through December of last year.

“I got excited because I could see that there was a board unified in their vision to increase the recognition and visibility of the museum,” Lee said of joining the Laguna Art Museum. “Having that sort of energy in a board was exciting for me.”

For Lee, 43, who will be heading the Laguna Art Museum after being at the Catalina Island Museum since 2016, it will be a homecoming of sorts, as much of her life has been spent in Orange County.


She earned a bachelor’s degree in art history, a master’s degree of fine arts in exhibition design and a certificate in museum studies from Cal State Fullerton. In her youth, Lee said she also attended Kaiser Elementary School in Costa Mesa. Her local ties also include a stint as a student at Orange Coast College.

In her schooling, Lee studied a wide range of art history in the Americas.

“I really was captivated by the Mexican muralist movement, and I had a fabulous class in 20th century Latin American Art,” Lee said. “I really fell in love with just learning more about how the arts were developing concurrently in the other side of the Americas, along with us.”

Earlier in Lee’s career she worked at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana as the vice president of collections and exhibition development.

While there from 2008 to 2016, she contributed to multiple publications and scholarly articles, including A Legacy of Bounty: Paintings from the Bowers Museum and Traditions and Transitions: Tribal Art from North America.

So where did Lee discover her passion for art and museum work? That moment has always been clear to her.

“I have a very specific moment,” Lee said. “I was very fortunate, and I still am very fortunate that I have a grandmother who I am very close to, and when I was a young teen, she took me traveling as a gift for graduating junior high.

“We went to the East Coast, and as soon as we went into those Smithsonian museums, I think even the National Gallery of Art in particular, I had just this profound moment, like, ‘This is what I’m going to do. This is where I want to be, and this is what I want around me my whole life.’”

As for her goals for the museum, Lee said she would like to grow the audience of the institution, as well as strengthen its programming and its standing in the arts community.

Lee also wants to make what she feels is a key addition to museum personnel.

“What I’m mostly excited about is as a leader, I’m excited to hire a curator because there presently isn’t one,” Lee said. “That’s really important for me to have one who has a really strong sense about the state of the arts in California, as well as our history of art.”

The arts follow Lee home, too, as her husband, David, is a painter and the art gallery curator at Coastline Community College in Newport Beach.

“The Museum’s search for its next executive director came at an ideal time,” Joe Hanauer, chairman of the museum’s board of trustees, said in a statement.

“For the past nine years, recently retired executive director Dr. Malcolm Warner did a wonderful job positioning the museum as a leader for California art and artists. Once viewed as primarily a place focused on early California and plein air art, a visit to the museum today reveals all periods of California art, including modern and contemporary works.

“This enviable platform provides opportunities to expand the reach of the museum by appealing to our region’s residents, attracting more of the area’s tourists, and serving the schools to which the museum provides art education. With Julie, we have a person with strong experience managing exhibitions and collections, and yet, someone with experience in senior level museum administration. It’s typically one or the other, but usually not both.”

Support our coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.