By Maria Saporta
The High Museum of Art is naming Randall Suffolk, currently director and president of the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Okla., as its new director.
The announcement came just two days before the departure of Michael E. Shapiro, who has been the Nancy and Holcombe T. Greene Jr. director of the High since March of 2000 after joining the High in 1995.
Suffolk will assume his role at the High on Nov. 2.
The High’s board leadership conducted an international search for a new director, and it selected Suffolk, who brings more than 20 years experience as a museum professional.
Since joining the Philbrook Museum of Art in 2007, Suffolk has significantly enhanced the Museum’s engagement with its community through the design and implementation of a comprehensive plan that aligned its programming with the interests of Tulsa residents.
This initiative resulted in a 63 percent increase in attendance; 293 percent growth in educational program participation; and a 22 percent rise in membership., according to a press release issued by the High Museum.
The success of this institutional strategy and program was nationally recognized in a 2013 study led by independent researchers Anne Bergeron and Beth Tuttle in partnership with the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) in which Philbrook was named one of six organizations that contribute greatly to their communities while fostering the financial capacity to thrive.
“Rand is a visionary director who understands how to create dynamic connections between museums and the audiences they serve,” said Charles Abney, who is chairman of the board for the High. “His proven track record of affecting real change with measurable impact makes him an ideal choice to build upon and deepen the High’s strong relationship with the City of Atlanta, and the greater Southeast.”
Abney went on to say that Suffolk “has demonstrated his ability to maintain the financial and institutional leadership required to support the museum’s ongoing growth. We are thrilled that he will have the opportunity to build upon the incredible foundation the High has to offer.”
In order to better meet the needs of the Tulsa community, and ensure the continuing vitality of Philbrook, Suffolk initiated a reorganization of the museum that established new education, curatorial and communications departments. He grew the operating budget by 40 percent; grew the permanent collection by more than 24 percent by adding 2,800 new works; and spearheaded the planning for Philbrook Downtown, a 30,000 square foot satellite facility designed by Gluckman Mayner Architects, which opened in 2013.
The space extended the programming in Philbrook’s main building with galleries dedicated to modern and contemporary art. The new space is also home of the Eugene B. Adkins Study Center for Native American and Southwestern Art, which was founded under Suffolk’s leadership.
“I am honored to have been selected to serve as the next director of the High Museum of Art,” Suffolk said in the release. “The values of Michael Shapiro and his team resonate greatly with my goals as a museum director, and they have set an outstanding precedent for ensuring visitor engagement. I look forward to joining the incredible staff and patrons who have done a wonderful job in building the High’s audience, developing major collaborations with national and international institutions, and ensuring the Museum is a meaningful and positive force within the city of Atlanta and beyond.”
Louise Sams, chair of the search committee and a former board chair, praised Suffolk’s ability to develop partnerships.
“Rand’s infectious enthusiasm and passion for the visual arts coupled with his savviness for identifying success benchmarks for staff and supporters alike make him an exemplary leader for the High,” she said. “His experience forging partnerships and his ability to adapt to the changing demographics and needs of the community will further the High’s commitment to best serving its audiences.”
Prior to joining Philbrook, Suffolk was the director of the Hyde Collection Art Museum in Glens Falls, N.Y., from 1999 through 2007. He had previously held positions there as deputy director and curator.
During his tenure, Suffolk’s focus included building constituency; overseeing a 7,000 square foot museum expansion; guiding the $1 million award-winning restoration of historic Hyde House; and initiating the successful creation of three sister endowment funds to sustain exhibitions, acquisitions and conservation.
He has also curated more than 25 exhibitions and has participated as a juror, panel member or guest lecturer for a variety of art-related organizations and programs.
Suffolk holds a Master’s degree in art history from Bryn Mawr College, a Master’s degree in higher education administration from Columbia University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Connecticut College.
Meanwhile, in a letter to High Museum members sent earlier this week, Shapiro spoke of his 20-year tenure at the High.
“The support of members like you has enabled the High to become a cornerstone of the Atlanta community, the leading art Museum in the Southeast, and a significant force on the national and international stage,” Shapiro wrote. “We have achieved so much together. I continue to believe that we should keep pushing ourselves and the museum to be even better: more accessible, with exciting and innovative programs, and with a diverse array of exhibitions that show the depth and range of our curatorial expertise and our collections.”
Shapiro went on to express satisfaction with the growth that’s occurred at the High during his tenure.
“Over the past two decades, I have had an opportunity to work on many exciting exhibitions and collaborations. We have built an amazing community of art lovers, artists and patrons,” Shapiro said. “With pleasure, I watched as our Museum expanded to nearly triple its size. I helped organize the loans of masterpieces from around the world, met with and championed innumerable artists, and traveled countless hours across the globe in the pursuit of great art.
“All of this was accomplished thanks to a dedicated and tireless team of curators, educators and other staff at the High, whom I am happy to call colleagues and friends. It has been my privilege to be at the helm of this wonderful museum and to make Atlanta my home.”