The Nassau County Museum of Art has abruptly dismissed its Museum Director in a controversial move that is prompting calls for his reinstatement and the Southampton History Museum has announced a new Executive Director without controversy.
This is the second time in six years the Nassau County Museum suddenly and without warning replaced its Museum Director.
Charles A. Riley, who has led the Nassau County Museum in Roslyn Harbor since 2017 found out he was without a job in August. “We wish Dr. Riley every success in his future endeavors,” board president Angela S. Anton told Newsday. “Every decision made by the trustees is made in the best interest of the museum, including the difficult decision that, for a variety of reasons, a change in leadership and direction was warranted.”
The museums collections manager and Deputy Director Fernanda Bennett is stepping in to fill the void. She has been with the museum for 38-years, according to Art.net.
The decision to replace Riley has prompted a Change.org petition calling for his reinstatement. On Monday morning the petition had 816 signatures.
“We all saw Dr. Riley at work one day and the next we receive a letter stating that he is no longer the director. We as a community have witnessed Dr. Riley’s dedication to the museum so when we hear Fernanda say “not seeing eye-to-eye,” we question what eye is the board seeing through or from?,” according to someone connected to the museum quoted on the petition.
“Dr. Riley made sure that he helped with grant writing to benefit the museum’s outdoor gardens and curated high-caliber art shows that raised the museum’s reputation. It is sad that this level of excellence is tossed out the window in such a manner. We also understand why the staff who contributed to this article are without art expertise to fathom the depth of a scholar’s vision, but we would think that all can see the treatment is not civil. In light of this week being a week of remembrance, we wish to see and feel some love from all for our community and humankind. It is a great loss to the museum and our community for lose such a beautiful soul at the helm. Museum director takes scholarship, not just personal opinions of the board.”
“This isn’t the first time there has been an unexpected changing of the guard at the Nassau Museum,” according to Art.net. “When Riley was appointed in 2017, local news outlet The Island Now reported that the museum hadn’t announced that it was looking for a new director, surprising everyone by replacing Karl Willers, the director of seven years, effective immediately.”
The Nassau County Museum of Art is located on the former Frick “Clayton” Estate, a 145-acre property in Roslyn Harbor in the heart of Long Island’s Gold Coast. Most of the Museum’s 145 acres originally belonged to William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878), longtime editor of the New York Evening Post, and also a poet, lawyer, conservationist, political activist, and patron of the arts.
In 1969, the estate was purchased by Nassau County to establish the Nassau County Museum of Fine Art, administered by the county’s Office of Cultural Development. In 1989, the Museum became a private non-profit, governed and funded by a board of trustees.
In uncontroversial Long Island museum news, Southampton History Museum has announced that Sarah Kautz has been named Executive Director of the 125-year-old nonprofit. Kautz brings to the role nearly two decades of experience in museums and historic preservation.
“During the last ten years, she has collaborated with local officials and community members to create new opportunities for preserving historic and cultural resources throughout Long Island and greater New York,” an announcement sent to the press said. The change came after a formal position announcement and search.
Father W. Patrick Edwards, president of the Museum’s board of directors, said, “It is clear from her previous experience, and from getting to know her during the search process, that Sarah is a thoughtful scholar and knowledgeable professional who approaches her work with care and
enthusiasm. We are fortunate to welcome her as our next executive director. The board is excited to start working together on fresh projects and initiatives.”
Organized in 1898 and incorporated in 1910, the Southampton History Museum’s mission is to preserve and promote the history and culture of Southampton by engaging diverse audiences in a shared heritage.
The Southampton History Museum currently stewards four separate heritage sites with 14 historic buildings, exhibitions, a research center, and educational programs for schoolchildren and adults.
Photos, from above: Nassau County Museum of Art in 2017; Charles A. Riley (courtesy Nassau County Museum of Art); and Sarah Kautz (provided by Southampton History Museum).