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Museum Leadership Changes

March 22, 2012 By:
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Ivy Barsky
Absorbing the word "CEO" into her job description -- and all the responsibility that comes with it -- doesn't faze Ivy Barsky, director and chief operating officer at the National Museum of American Jewish History. 
 
She doesn't have time to ponder the change, between coordinating programs, an inaugural traveling exhibition, a survey of the impact of the core collection and a strategic plan designed to expand the museum's reach.
 
 
As the museum enters its second fiscal year since moving into a brand new $142 million building on Independence Mall, Barsky will become the "Gwen Goodman director and CEO," succeeding current CEO and president Michael Rosenzweig. At least for now, museum officials said, there are no plans to hire another administrator to fill her role as second-in-command. 
 
"We're in a different phase now and building a building is different than running a museum," explained Barsky, adding that museum directors are by nature CEOs.
 
Rosenzweig, who assumed the top post in April 2009 when the building was still under construction, said in a news release that he had "accomplished what I was hired to do. With the museum open and operating efficiently, the time is right for me to move onto my next challenge." He didn't explain where he's heading next and declined to speak to reporters, according to museum spokesman Jay Nachman. 
 
Under Rosenzweig's leadership, the modern, five-story building opened to the public in November 2010 and became a go-to place for Jewish community gatherings and cultural programs. But it has also faced challenges sustaining fundraising momentum and attracting visitors -- particularly those who aren't Jewish.
 
Barsky joined the staff last summer after nearly 15 years as deputy director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage -- A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Manhattan. Her predecessor and job title namesake, Goodman, oversaw the museum during a decade-long fundraising effort and has been on the board for more than 30 years.
 
Museum board co-chair Ronald Rubin said Rosenzweig's departure had nothing to do with finances, and complimented his role in fundraising, overseeing the building construction and hiring many of the current staff members. "When you have a project of that consequence and you can bring it in on time and on budget, that's a great piece of work," Rubin said.
 
Keeping the facility running has required continual fundraising. Rosenzweig estimated last November that the museum would need roughly $5 million in donations to cover half of the operating budget for the current fiscal year -- a higher margin than many other museums.
 
Officials have declined to provide the actual expenses and revenue from this or last fiscal year.
 
The museum also lost one of its principal supporters with the July death of George Ross. The former investment banker and his wife, Lyn, flew across the country to meet with potential donors and are credited as the driving forces behind the museum's existence.
 
While Ross "was just an impossible man to replace," his wife has remained a critical fundraiser along with Rubin and other board members, said Philip Darivoff, a retired partner at Goldman Sachs who recently assumed the co-chair role that had been vacant since Ross died.
 
Despite the leadership shift, Barsky said the pace of activity at the museum will continue growing. The museum recently sent an exhibit on the history of the American Bat Mitzvah ritual to New York and Barsky is working on plans for a special exhibit from her "alma mater" in January 2013.
 
Social scientists from Chicago will be on site in coming weeks to ask visitors what they got out of the core exhibit and what they would change. The analysis, expected to cost upwards of $50,000, could be available as early as May, Barsky said. A number of teachers also just signed up for a newly-created 5th grade curriculum on immigration that includes a tailored museum tour and follow-up activities in the classroom. More ideas will be announced once the strategic plan is completed, likely in June, she said.
 
Concerning finances, Barsky said she plans to keep spending conservative and continue searching for a development director, a position that the museum had in the past.
 
"I'm not by nature a patient person and there's a lot to do," Barsky said, "So I have to just convince myself that some things may have to wait."

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