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December 20, 2014

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MUSEUM:

Chief who set new course for LVAM is out, suddenly

Differences over budget, likely staff cuts lead to resignation, shocking board members, staff

Image

Tiffany Brown

Executive Director Libby Lumpkin speaks at the gala and auction for the Las Vegas Art Museum’s “Las Vegas Diaspora” exhibit Sept. 30 at the Four Season Hotel. On Tuesday, Lumpkin suddenly resigned.

Libby Lumpkin, executive director of the Las Vegas Art Museum and key player in the museum’s new direction, abruptly resigned on Tuesday.

Lumpkin came to the museum in 2005 with an impressive resume and helped redirect the museum’s vision, rebuild its reputation and raise its national visibility. Her focus was cutting-edge contemporary art.

She resigned during a special board meeting called to discuss budget revisions that would have affected payroll and staff.

According to those present, Lumpkin said, “You can have my salary,” and resigned.

She said she had hoped for a different outcome on the budget. Lumpkin, who was cleaning out her desk Tuesday afternoon, said she had no idea she would be leaving the museum that day.

Her resignation was a shock to board members and staff.

Patrick Duffy, who takes over as board president in January, said Lumpkin “basically felt that she wouldn’t be able to be effective” with the revised budget.

“It’s unfortunate,” Duffy said. “We would have loved to be able to work with her because we value her tremendously. She’s a dynamic thinker and a very spirited intellect. But we could no longer operate with this type of payroll. Because of economic climate we’re in, it had to be reduced.”

The board called her after the meeting and said her resignation was accepted.

Lumpkin said she had hoped to stay at the museum until the end of the month, but the board asked her to leave.

Her $100,000 annual salary may help with the budget problem temporarily. But sources say changes to the 12-member staff, which was recruited during Lumpkin’s tenure, might be inevitable.

The museum is one of many nonprofit cultural institutions locally and nationally being hit by the economy. Profits from the museum’s gala in September came in at $432,553, down more than $100,000 from last year. In addition, donors are giving less.

The museum’s financial statements from 2006, the last year available, list the Las Vegas Art Museum’s budget at $1.6 million. Duffy wouldn’t say what the 2007 budget was, but the museum is looking at a budget of less than that of 2006 for the next fiscal year.

Alex Codlin, the museum’s executive assistant director, has been asked to be interim executive director.

Museum exhibits are scheduled through the end of next summer.

It’s already been an eventful year for the museum. In March, the board derailed plans to lease the All-American Sportpark near McCarran International Airport. The museum was going to remodel the Sportpark to use as a new temporary home. Instead, it decided to look into building its own facility. The museum began aggressively looking at options downtown, including a site on the Smith Center for the Performing Arts campus. Myron Martin, president of the Las Vegas Performing Arts Center Foundation says that partnership didn’t work because the museum was looking for more space than was available.

Duffy says the museum will continue discussions and negotiations for a new home.

The loss of Lumpkin will likely be felt throughout the community.

A highly respected writer and art historian, Lumpkin was the founding curator of the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art in Las Vegas, which opened with Steve Wynn’s art collection in 1998. She was an assistant professor of art history at UNLV and served as visiting professor and lecturer at Yale, Harvard and other universities.

She left Las Vegas in 2003 with her husband, art critic Dave Hickey, after she was denied tenure at UNLV. They moved to Long Beach, Calif., where Lumpkin served as a director of a museum studies program and professor of art history at California State University, Long Beach.

In 2005 Lumpkin returned to take over as executive director of the Las Vegas Art Museum. The move was lauded by colleagues and critics who said that if anyone could repair the museum’s reputation and set it on a new course, it would be Lumpkin.

Her shows included “Southern California Minimalism” with works by such artists as James Turrell, John McCracken, Larry Bell, Craig Kauffman, Peter Alexander, Judy Chicago and Robert Irwin; a retrospective of work by Martin Mull; and “Las Vegas Diaspora: The Emergence of Contemporary Art From the Neon Homeland,” which featured work by 26 artists who had studied at UNLV with Hickey between 1990 and 2001.

Duffy said her departure wouldn’t be too damaging to the museum because the board and staff have a well-crafted mission statement to follow.

Lumpkin, who said she has no plans to leave Las Vegas but will need a job, added that she’s relieved to know the museum will be in the hands of a professional staff that will continue on its mission.

“It’s just really unfortunate that LVAM was not immune to the economic downturn,” Lumpkin said. “We’ve been working really hard to prevent this situation.”

Lumpkin says she had expected a different outcome at the meeting, but would not comment on details.

“I will continue to be supportive of the museum and its effort to serve the community,” Lumpkin said. “I’m here if anybody needs me for anything.”

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