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Erik Neil Announced as New Director

Head of the Academy Art Museum in Easton, Md., to Succeed Retiring Director William Hennessey

NORFOLK, Va. – (July 2, 2014) – The Chrysler Museum of Art Board of Trustees unanimously selected Dr. Erik H. Neil as its next director and president.

Neil, 50, is director of the Academy Art Museum in Easton, Maryland, where he has served since 2010.

Click to enlarge

Erik Neil. Click to enlarge.

"I am very excited to come to the Chrysler and build upon the great work done by Bill Hennessey, the trustees, and the Museum staff," Neil said. "The chance to work with such an outstanding collection and to be creative with it, to open up doors to new audiences is very appealing."

Said outgoing board chair Peter Meredith: "Erik Neil comes to us with a strong sense of the essential role a museum plays in its community and a history of deep personal engagement in each place he has served. He is a perfect fit for the Chrysler, given our focus on serving the Hampton Roads area."

Said Lewis Webb, head of the Museum's executive search committee who now chairs the board: "Through our incredible collection, curators and staff, board, and donors, the Chrysler Museum has always been an active participant and leader in the national conversation about art and museums. Erik Neil is a leader who loves art. He is the just the right person to continue to nurture and coordinate our efforts for even more impact."

Neil will assume leadership duties at the Chrysler on Oct. 6 as part of a seamless transition plan. Last fall, current director and president Bill Hennessey, 66, announced his plan to retire from the Museum on Oct. 3. He has served as director of the Chrysler for 17 years, the longest standing director in the Museum's 81-year history.

"With his strong art history background and solid management experience, Erik Neil is an inspired choice to lead the Chrysler into its next chapter. I eagerly look forward to working with him to ensure a smooth transition," Hennessey said.

Said Neil: "I am looking forward to living in Norfolk. It's rare to have an institution of the Chrysler's stature in a community of this size. I hope to be able to leverage that stature to see that the Chrysler Museum has both great local impact and a broader stage of influence."

About Erik Neil
Neil is known in the museum world for the breadth of his artistic interests, strong management skills, a genial personality, and a collaborative approach to work and leadership, with a common goal of making the good even better.

Having worked in both large and small museums gives Neil a broad base of experience. "I will have the opportunity to work with some immensely bright and talented people here," he said.

Past and present colleagues laud his intelligence, his transparency, his ability to build community, and his visionary pragmatism. "As much as I like to be ambitious and adventuresome, I appreciate sound fiscal responsibility as well," he said, "and the Chrysler is known for all of those hallmarks."

Neil's accomplishments in the profession demonstrate the common threads that others praise. Neil began his museum career in 1999 as director of the Newcomb Art Gallery of Tulane University in New Orleans, where he also served as an adjunct art history professor. Among his accomplishments at the Newcomb were acclaimed in-house and traveling exhibitions, including the commissioning and national tour of a new work by Carrie Mae Weems. He also was praised for improved strategic planning and growth; deficit reduction; funding and budget growth; and assuring the safety of the collection in the face of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In 2006, after a short stint as director of exhibition and programs at the American Federation of Arts in New York, Neil became Executive Director of the Heckscher Museum in Huntington, N.Y. There he led a nine-month, $1.5 million complete museum modernization and initiated its reaccreditation process with the American Association of Museums. He also revamped the exhibition program to focus on modern and contemporary art, with spotlights on regional artists, photography, and design. Fiscally, he expanded the Heckscher's financial capacity through new grants, donations, and fundraising events.

Since 2010, as director of the Academy Art Museum, Neil has been credited with revitalizing a small but solid institution. Under his leadership, the museum reorganized its staff and prioritized strategic planning. Neil focused exhibitions and collection accessions on both known and new artists, including those deemed regionally important. The museum acquired works by Picasso, Mondrian, Hockney, Ingres, and Goltzius, as well as new holdings in 19th-century photography. The Academy commissioned a site-specific installation by James Turrell at the same time the artist had new work on view at venerable institutions such as the MFA Houston and the Guggenheim. Neil's passion for community partnerships, especially with Talbot County's African-American leadership, led to the establishment of an annual Juneteenth celebration in the birthplace of the great civil rights leader Frederick Douglass. The museum also has seen a significant increase in annual appeal giving, membership, art travel, and new grant sources, and a successful $2 million challenge of gifts, pledges, and planned gifts has grown its endowment.

Neil's education includes a B.A. (1986) in modern European and American history from Princeton University, and both a Ph.D. (1995) and M.A. (1991) in the history of art and architecture from Harvard University. His key academic focus was Italian Renaissance and Baroque architecture, though his scholarship, fellowships, writing, lecturing, and university teaching include modern architecture, the history of photography, and contemporary art. He also earned a certificate in museum management (2003) from the prestigious Getty Leadership Institute in Berkeley, Calif., and has pursued leadership and professional development opportunities through the American Alliance of Museums.

Neil has been married for nearly 25 years to Luisa Adelfio, a sculptor and an exhibiting artist. The couple has four daughters and two dogs. Among his personal interests are classical and rock music, running, and films.

About the Executive Search
In anticipation of Hennessey's retirement announcement, nearly 18 months ago the Chrysler began the process of seeking a new director, in accordance with the Museum's strategic plan updated in 2011. Last fall, Lewis Webb, then board vice chair, began working with an eight-member search committee representative of key Museum and community constituencies.

For the international executive search, the Chrysler hired Development Resources, Inc. of Arlington, Va. Jennifer Dunlap, president and CEO of the consultancy group, managed the recruitment effort, as it had for similar searches at the National Gallery of Art, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Foundation, the Walters Museum, and the Mariners' Museum.

More than 70 candidates applied for the position, and DRI submitted 25 prescreened resumes to the search committee. Board members narrowed the field to eight applicants to call for more in-depth, face-to-face interviews. Afterwards, four candidates were invited to the Museum in spring 2014 for on-site visits with staff leaders and trustees.

"As we focused in tighter and tighter, Erik stood out more and more," Webb said. When the search committee presented Neil to the board for consideration as the new director of the Chrysler, he was "overwhelmingly affirmed" as the best candidate for the job.

Over the next few months, with the ongoing consultancy help of Dunlap and DRI, the Chrysler has planned a rigorous onboarding process to help initiate Neil to his new staff and board, as well as officials in Norfolk and the Hampton Roads area, leaders of regional arts organizations, and his new community.

About William J. Hennessey
Bill Hennessey, 66, became director of the Chrysler Museum of Art in March 1997. Under his leadership, the Chrysler mounted scores of engaging and popular exhibitions and programs, continued to strengthen an already impressive collection, earned a coveted four-star rating from Charity Navigator, and completed two successful Museum expansions, including the creation of a working glass studio. But assuring the Museum's culture of service, community engagement, and focused commitment to its visitors may well be his most lasting legacy. With free general admission, the introduction of an acclaimed Gallery Host program, and Hennessey's visionary thinking about what museums can and should be today, the Chrysler garnered national attention in 2013 when it was named one of six "magnetic museums" in the United States. Over the next several months, Hennessey will assist with the transition leading up to his retirement from the Museum. The Chrysler also plans a series of events to celebrate Hennessey's accomplishments and contributions to the museum profession and the Hampton Roads area.

About the Chrysler Museum of Art
The recently expanded Chrysler Museum of Art is one of America's most distinguished mid-sized art museums, with a nationally recognized collection of more than 30,000 objects, including one of the great glass collections in America. The core of the Chrysler's collection was given to the Museum by Walter Chrysler, Jr., an avid art collector who donated thousands of objects from his private collection to the Museum. In the years since Chrysler's death in 1988, the Museum has dramatically expanded its collection and extended its ties with the Norfolk community. The Museum now has rapidly growing collections, especially of contemporary glass and 21st-century works.

In 2011, the Chrysler opened a full-service glass studio to tie with a 560-pound capacity glass furnace, a full hot shop, a flameworking studio, nine annealing ovens, and a coldworking shop. In addition, the Chrysler Museum of Art also administers two historic houses in downtown Norfolk: the Moses Myers House and the Willoughby-Baylor House.

The Chrysler Museum of Art, One Memorial Place, Norfolk, and its Perry Glass Studio at 745 Duke St., are open to the public Tuesday through Sunday. The Historic Houses on East Freemason Street are open weekends.

General admission is free at all venues. For more information on the Chrysler Museum of Art, visit

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