Metropolitan Museum of Art President Rafferty to Retire

Jul 30, 2014 2:47 pm ET

(Updates with chairman’s comment in fifth paragraph.)

July 30 (Bloomberg) -- Emily Kernan Rafferty, the first woman appointed president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, will retire next year after a career that spanned almost four decades at the largest U.S. art institution.

Rafferty, 65, joined the Met in 1976 and rose through the ranks to become its president in 2004. During her tenure, the museum opened new Islamic art galleries and completed the redesign and expansion of its American wing and European galleries. She will step down at the end of March 2015, the museum said yesterday in a statement.

In September, the museum, which had more than 6.2 million visitors during its last fiscal year, will unveil a $65 million refurbishment of its fountains and plaza along Fifth Avenue, funded by billionaire David H. Koch.

“I am very assured of this decision,” Rafferty said in an interview. “It’s the right time in my personal life and for the institution as well. I have to leave at some point after all.”

Daniel J. Brodsky, a real-estate developer and the Met’s chairman, will lead the committee to find Rafferty’s successor. The group will be formed in September to review internal and external candidates, Brodsky said.

“Emily has been part of the DNA of the museum for almost 40 years,” Brodsky said in an interview. “She is beloved by the board and the staff. It will be difficult to replace her.”

An experienced fund-raiser and administrator, Rafferty oversees 1,500 full and part-time employees in areas including finance, legal affairs and development. During her career at the museum, she helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars for its operations.

‘Great Partnership’

Rafferty earned $884,779 in overall compensation during the fiscal year ended June 30, 2013, according to the Met’s tax return. Thomas Campbell, the museum’s director and chief executive officer, earned $1.2 million during the same period.

“Tom and I have come through a great partnership,” Rafferty said. “A lot of projects we’ve been working on are done or are coming to a completion. There’s a new opportunity for this institution for the next decade. Tom has got a very clear vision and I endorse it full-heartedly.”

Established in 1872, the Met has a collection of more than 1.5 million objects spanning some five millennia in 2.4 million feet of space on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Its operating budget was $290 million during the fiscal year ended June 30, 2013.

Capital Campaign

Rafferty said she will depart as the museum embarks on a series of new initiatives and a related longterm capital campaign. In the summer of 2015, the Met will start its eight- year occupancy of the Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue, the longtime home of the Whitney Museum of American Art. The Whitney will move to its new Renzo Piano-designed building by the High Line in Manhattan’s Meatpacking district.

Another major undertaking on the horizon is the redesign of the Met’s Lila Acheson Wallace wing for modern and contemporary art. A special committee has met with architects to discuss what to do with the space, Brodsky said, adding that it hasn’t been decided whether the wing will be renovated or torn down. The wing, which opened in 1987, is located at the southwest corner of the museum and overlooks Central Park.

“The selection of the architect will take place by the end of this year,” said Brodksy. “We started in the spring and have final interviews coming up in September and October.”

Financial Hit

Rafferty facilitated the Met’s transition from its longtime director Philippe de Montebello to Campbell, who took the helm in January 2009.

“We were all still reeling” from the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and the financial crisis, she said. “Our endowment took a hit like everyone else’s.”

The museum’s investments declined by more than $600 million, or 24 percent, and at least 250 employees were fired or took buyouts.

Rafferty, a native of New York, received a bachelor’s degree from Boston University in 1971 and began her career as an arts and philanthropy assistant to David Rockefeller Jr. in Boston. From 1973 to 1975, she served as a deputy director of education at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art.

She joined the Metropolitan Museum in 1976 and rose to leading positions in the areas of fundraising, development, membership and external affairs before becoming president.

Few people have had a greater impact on the museum than Rafferty, Campbell said.

“Over nearly 40 years, Emily has grown with the Met, rising to its challenges through the decades,” he said in the statement. “We have worked together as partners over the past five years, and I remain grateful for the intelligence, generosity, and charisma she brings to every endeavor.”