Director, Archives of American Art

Director, Archives of American Art

Smithsonian Institution

Washington, DC   |   July 10, 2020

Position Concept

The next Director of the Archives of American Art will have the opportunity to build upon the accomplishments of previous Director Kate Haw, who served from 2013 through late 2019. Haw oversaw and implemented institutional strategic planning and realigned departmental priorities for more focused collecting, including initiatives to build the Archives’ resources on women and expand the holdings to include historically underrepresented groups. In recent years, the Archives has modernized productivity and increased worldwide accessibility of its vast collections of more than 30 million primary sources. To support this activity and expansion, $11 million in funds have been secured to support digitization of the Archives’ holdings. The endowment currently stands at $24 million, and the annual operating budget is $6.5 million. The staff of approximately 50 comprises Trust-funded, federal, and contractor team members.

The Archives’ Director is empowered to focus on key priorities to enhance the work of the Archives and its impact in the field of art and art history. These include expanding relationships with practicing artists and artists’ foundations; ensuring the capacity for a growing collection of “born digital” materials; continuing to diversify the Archives’ collections to reflect the still-evolving field of American art; securing funds to endow critical positions and collecting initiatives; and planning for the next capital campaign. The current strategic plan spans 2019 to 2023; annual reports for 2015 through 2019 are available here.

Knowledge of digital technologies, in particular their impact on art and art history, will be a plus. At this moment, of particular importance is a clear understanding that creating/managing files of digitized paper originals is related to, but distinct in crucial ways from, material that is digital in origin. The distinction with born-digital material is that, by its nature, it requires re-thinking every process of collecting built on analog precedents. While all the material Archives staff identify is historically significant and worthy of preservation, born-digital material and paper-based documents are dissimilar in how they are handled at every stage from assessment to cataloging to serving those materials to scholars, researchers, artists, and others who use them. The Archives’ next Director truly needs to appreciate these differences in order to understand the sometimes dramatically different funding needs required to collect, preserve, and present born-digital material. Prospective candidates who have had some experience with this process, in addition to the capacity to comprehend it, would be ideal.

About The Smithsonian Archives of American Art

Smithsonian Archives of American Art (website)

Founded at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1954, the Archives of American Art is the world’s preeminent and most widely used research center dedicated to collecting, preserving, and providing access to primary sources that document the history of the visual arts in America.


Founded in Detroit in 1954 by Edgar P. Richardson, then Director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, and Lawrence A. Fleischman, a Detroit executive and active young collector, the Archives initially served as a microfilm repository. This mission expanded quickly to collecting and preserving original material, and in 1970 the Archives joined the Smithsonian Institution, sharing its mandate: the increase and diffusion of knowledge.


The Archives’ resources serve as reference for countless dissertations, exhibitions, catalogs, articles, and books on American art and artists, and preserve the untold stories that—without a central repository such as the Archives—might have otherwise been lost. Increasingly, artists also access the Archives as a source of material for new artworks as well. This is in line with the Archives team’s increasing attention to building relationships with artists earlier in their careers.

These vast holdings are a vital resource to anyone interested in American culture over the past 200 years and comprise more than 30 million letters, diaries, scrapbooks, manuscripts, financial records, photographs, films, and audiovisual recordings of artists, dealers, collectors, critics, scholars, museum leaders, associations, and other art world figures. The Archives also houses the largest collection anywhere of oral histories on the subject of art.

Founded on the belief that the public needs free and open access to the most valuable research materials, the collections are available to all who wish to consult original papers at the research centers or use reference services remotely every year, and to millions who visit the Archives online to consult digitized collections.

Future Growth

The Archives is still growing. Each year, collecting specialists travel the country seeking the papers of artists, dealers, and collectors, and once new collections are acquired, professional archivists preserve the materials and create easy-to-use guides (finding aids).

Through collecting, preserving, and providing access to collections, the Archives inspires new ways of interpreting the visual arts in America, and allows current and future generations to piece together the nation’s rich artistic and cultural heritage. Given its commitment to the fundamental notion that diversity, equity, and inclusion enhance the abilities of institutions to achieve their missions and have impact, the Archives has prioritized better and more broadly representing the diversity of American art and artists in their collections.

About The Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian Institution (website) is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, enriching the lives of the American people and shaping the future by preserving the nation’s artistic heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing resources with the world. The Institution was founded in 1846 with funds from the Englishman James Smithson (1765–1829) according to his wishes “under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” It was established by an act of Congress as an independent federal trust instrumentality, a unique public-private partnership that has proven its value as a cultural and scientific resource for nearly 175 years. The federal commitment provides the foundation for all they do and is especially helpful in attracting private support.

Congress vested responsibility for the administration of the Smithsonian in a Board of Regents, consisting of the Chief Justice of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, three members of the United States Senate, three members of the United States House of Representatives, and nine citizens. The Board of Regents meets at least four times each year.

The head of the Smithsonian is the Secretary, who is appointed by the Board of Regents. Dr. Lonnie G. Bunch III, the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian, assumed his position in June 2019. He is the first African American and first historian to serve as head of the Smithsonian. From 2005 to 2019, Dr. Bunch served as the founding Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum for African American History and Culture, which opened to the public in September 2016. The Secretary oversees 19 museums, 21 libraries, the National Zoo, numerous education and research centers, including the Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, and Smithsonian Science Education Center.

Main Focus, Priorities, and Key Responsibilities

The Archives of American Art is headquartered in Washington, D.C. with another research center in New York City, and microfilm repositories in Boston, MA; Fort Worth, TX; and San Francisco and San Marino, CA. With a collection of over 30 million items, the Archives is the largest and most widely used resource in the world on the history of American art and is a leader in the digitization of and public accessibility to archival collections. The Archives produces exhibitions for and maintains the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery in the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture housed in the Old Patent Office in Washington, D.C. The Archives documents living artists and important figures in the art world through an on-going oral history project, produces an annual awards program, publishes a scholarly journal twice a year, and organizes other publications and scholarly and public programs.

The Director of the Archives of American Art has responsibility for the overall planning, development, direction, and management of all programs and activities of the Archives. The Director is advised by a Board of Trustees appointed by the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents. The Director is appointed by the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and reports on all matters relating to the Archives through the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for Museums and Culture. 

Duties and Responsibilities
  1. Provides executive leadership and direction to all departments of the Archives in the planning, development, and management of the Archives programs and activities. Formulates a vision for the Archives to achieve its overall mission; defines program goals, objectives, and priorities; and issues policy guidelines, as appropriate, for program operations consistent with extant Archives and Smithsonian strategic plans. Develops and monitors short- and long-range program plans covering all aspects of the Archives operations, including new acquisitions, collections management, conservation, digitization and dissemination, fundraising, external affairs, research, publications, exhibits, public service, and facilities management, where applicable. Makes major policy decisions concerning the Archives programs, including matters relating to budget, staffing, organization, and facilities.
  2. Develops and maintains standards and criteria for program development and execution. Reviews and evaluates proposals for new projects and initiatives or major shifts or expansions in existing programs. Approves or disapproves such proposals and provides leadership and guidance on improving the proposed programs. Continually evaluates program operations and initiatives and directs management studies to achieve improvements.
  3. Plans and directs effective fundraising initiatives to support the Archives’ programs and operations. These efforts involve working closely with the Board of Trustees and identifying needs, assigning priorities, and locating potential donors from private, corporate, and foundation sources. Plans and participates in the Smithsonian’s institution-wide fundraising initiatives, coordinating efforts with appropriate Smithsonian leadership and offices.
  4. Oversees the development, justification, presentation, allocation, execution, and control of the annual operating budget for the Archives. Develops budget projections that reflect long-range planning for new and ongoing programs. Reviews budget justifications for and presentation of proposed budgets to the Smithsonian’s Office of Programming and Budget, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Congress. Continually evaluates the Archives operations, services, and initiatives or directs management studies to achieve improvements.
  5. Directs and coordinates the activities of the Archives staff in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Develops and implements operating policy, standards, and procedures to assure the continued high quality of staff performance. Develops and administers policies to achieve management objectives in such areas as staff development, labor management, employee relations, affirmative action, and equal employment opportunity. Assures that subordinate supervisors effectively carry out their supervisory responsibilities. Reviews recommendations for personnel actions affecting key subordinates and acts on major personnel problems referred. Initiates and directs major studies to improve organization, staffing, and operations.
  6. Works closely with the Archives Board of Trustees, its Board Chair, Executive Committee and various other committees to develop a strategic plan, broad operating objectives and policies, and overall fundraising goals and priorities. Provides leadership and collaboration in the Board’s efforts in raising the profile and public awareness of the Archives and in developing national constituencies supportive of the Archives and the Smithsonian. Works closely with the Board Chair on revisions to the Board’s by-laws and on the development of appropriate agendas for all Board meetings, including meetings of committees.
  7. Per the ethos of “One Smithsonian,” encourages, explores, and develops joint programs in cooperation with other Smithsonian museums, research, and educational organizations especially with regard to those areas identified in the Smithsonian Strategic Plan, as well as with universities, federal organizations, non-Smithsonian museums, and other cultural organizations, including arts institutions within minority communities. Assures the Archives representation at national and international conferences and meetings, and on national and international art committees. Renders expert advice and consultation to federal agencies, professional, and other organizations.
  8. Attends high-level Smithsonian policy meetings and conferences, making significant contributions to the development of Smithsonian policy and priorities. Testifies at Congressional hearings on budget requests and other matters as required.
Supervisory Controls

The Director reports to the Under Secretary for Museums and Culture, Smithsonian Institution. Within broad policy guidelines and established objectives, the incumbent independently develops and directs all aspects of the Archives’ programs and activities, exercising a high degree of managerial knowledge and ability as well as professional competence in the field of American art. Keeps the Under Secretary informed of major programs, projects, fundraising appeals and other issues. Work performance is appraised primarily in terms of overall effectiveness in the attainment of program goals and objectives.

Candidate Profile

The Archives of American Art seeks a leader who understands the value of and is committed to advancing the mission of collecting, preserving, and providing access to primary sources that document the history of the visual arts in America. The next Director must be able to convey their passion for this enterprise to the public and to potential donors, continuing to elevate the national profile of the Archives of American Art as a leader among institutions of its kind.

Top candidates will demonstrate collaborative and compelling leadership, with the ability to build support for a robust strategic vision across a range of constituencies including staff, board members, Smithsonian Institution leadership, and funding organizations and individuals. The Archives is invested in continuing to diversify collections and audiences and increasing access to the holdings; we are seeking a leader for whom these are clear priorities.

  • A critical success factor will be the ability to build relationships effectively in a variety of spheres of influence – with team members and Smithsonian colleagues; partnering with the Board of Trustees; within the field of American art; with living artists; and with foundations and other donors dedicated to American art. The Director of the Archives is the organization’s spokesperson, the “face and voice” who serves as an effective advocate for the critical role the organization plays in advancing the field.
  • The next leader should demonstrate a solid track record as a fundraiser, with an understanding of the key elements of a high-functioning development shop. Foundation support has been crucial to operations at the Archives, so continuing to steward these existing relationships along with making new connections to other foundations is required. In addition, the next Director will aim to connect the Archives’ mission with funders outside of the realm of foundations, particularly individual donors. Finding new and reliable supplementary funding sources will be increasingly important in the years to come to sustain the work of the team.
  • Successful candidates must be interested in the opportunity to advocate for and cultivate the visibility of the Archives of American Art within the larger Smithsonian Institution ecosystem. Candidates should embrace the opportunity to work collaboratively and productively with the directors at other Smithsonian Institution units, especially those that have the most crossover with the Archives’ mission: the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the National Portrait Gallery. The next Director must understand and illuminate how behind-the-scenes archival work often informs and enriches the projects of the more public-facing units.
  • In leading a team of experienced and committed staff members, the next Director will be an excellent listener with a high level of emotional intelligence who respects the staff’s expertise, supports their professional development, prioritizes the retention of skilled staff members, and is transparent about decision making. Retention will involve transitioning more contract positions into permanent roles and ensuring that staff members’ pay grades are commensurate with their professional experience and skill level.

Naree Viner and Tenley Bank of Koya Leadership Partners have been exclusively retained for this search. To express your interest in this role please submit your materials here or email Tenley directly at [email protected]. All inquiries and discussions will be considered strictly confidential.

About Koya Leadership Partners

Koya Leadership Partners is a retained executive search and human capital consulting firm that partners exclusively with mission-driven clients, institutions of higher education, and social enterprises. We deliver measurable results, finding exceptionally talented people who truly fit the unique culture of our clients and ensuring they have the strategies to support them. Koya is an equal opportunity employer fully committed to creating an environment and team that represents a variety of backgrounds, perspectives, styles, and experiences. For more information about Koya Leadership Partners, please visit