President of Museum to Quit Her Post
By PATRICIA COHEN
Published: October 5, 2012
After 15 years of working to build a permanent home for the Museum for African Art in Manhattan, the museum’s president, Elsie McCabe Thompson, announced on Friday that she was stepping down “to pursue other career opportunities.”
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Elsie McCabe Thompson of the Museum for African Art.
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The decision comes after more than three years of financial troubles that have repeatedly delayed the museum’s opening of a new site at Fifth Avenue and 110th Street, on the northern tip of what is known as Museum Mile. The museum needs an additional $10 million to finish construction of its new space in the bottom of a 19-story condominium designed by Robert A. M. Stern. A statement released by the museum announcing Ms. Thompson’s departure said it was “in discussions with several funders to ensure that the project is completed successfully.” The space was originally scheduled to open in 2009, and no new opening date has yet been set. Since its establishment in 1984, the museum has occupied a variety of temporary spaces, most recently a gallery in Long Island City, Queens, that closed in 2005. Ms. Thompson, who has been president since 1997 and who referred to the museum as “my baby,” said in the release that she planned to join the museum’s board of trustees. She could not be reached for additional comment. The deputy director and chief operating officer, Kenita Lloyd, will temporarily oversee the museum, while a committee that will include trustees, advisers and Ms. Thompson undertakes a nationwide search for a replacement, the statement said.
Ms. Thompson’s husband, William C. Thompson Jr., is running for mayor in next year’s election. This year he resigned as chairman of the Battery Park City Authority to focus more on his campaign. A former city comptroller, Mr. Thompson was the Democratic nominee for mayor in 2009.
People close to Ms. Thompson, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because their conversations with her were meant to be private, said she had spoken recently about leaving, partly because the project was near completion and she did not want it to distract from her husband’s campaign. They also said she wanted to start looking for a new job now, because she worried that finding one would be more difficult as the campaign got under way. The chairman of the museum, the real estate developer Bruce Eichner, said in the statement: “While there is still more work ahead to complete this project, we share Elsie’s commitment to opening a cultural beacon for Africa in New York. The board, Elsie and the museum’s supporters are committed to getting the task finished as soon as possible.” The museum reported that it had so far raised $93 million for the project. Ms. Thompson has previously estimated yearly operating costs at $8 million. Ms. Lloyd has said that the museum is hoping to get a significant amount of money for naming rights on the new building. Plans for the museum include an education center, a library, a cafe and a gift shop. The 70,000- square-foot space alone cost $44 million, according to a June 2011 financial statement. That statement also showed that
the museum had received more than $20 million in city and state funds in the previous 12 months.
Ms. Thompson said in the news release: “We have poured our hearts and souls into the museum in order to create an institution of global acclaim. While this is a difficult decision, I leave knowing that much has been accomplished and the museum is in its final stages of development.” Since it closed its Queens site seven years ago, the museum has been organizing and lending exhibitions to other institutions.
David W. Chen contributed reporting.