The John and Mable Ringling Museum search committee had its pick of candidates during its quest for a new executive director, but it was almost as if Steven High’s career path had led him to the position.
High will become executive director of the museum starting June 1.
The announcement was made today after Eric J. Barron, president of The Florida State University, approved the museum board of director’s appointment of High.
“With Steven High at the helm, I have every confidence that The Ringling Museum possesses the artistic business leadership required to achieve even greater prominence and excellence building on its outstanding reputation for art collection, programming, educational opportunities, buildings, library, grounds and events,” Barron said.
High brings more than 30 years of museum and university experience to the Ringling Museum. He began his career in the museum field with Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, in Savannah, Ga. Since 1986, he has curated 41 exhibitions on contemporary art, published 19 catalog essays, three magazine articles and numerous introductory forewords.
During his 10-year tenure from 1996 to 2007 as director and CEO of the Nevada Museum of Art, in Reno, Nev., High supervised the design, construction and successful opening in 2003 of the museum’s new home — the Will Bruder-designed $16 million, four-story, 60,000-square-foot facility. It features a sky-lit atrium carved through the entire building that constantly changes the space of light and shadow. Also while under his leadership, the museum’s annual operating budget increased almost six-fold, from $500,000 to more than $2.9 million. Membership soared from 900 to 7,000 households.
In 2007, High circled back to his roots and became the director and CEO of the Telfair Museums, in Savannah. While at the Telfair, the oldest art museum in the south with a staff of nearly 90 and an operating budget of $5.2 million, High and his staff worked to bridge the gap between the museum and the community through the delivery of inclusive, innovative and entertaining exhibitions and programs; he hopes to do similar programs at Ringling Museum.
“I would love to work with the Sarasota Museum of Art, and I’m really excited about the Ringling School,” High said. “My whole career has been about building partnerships and linkages … it all comes down to the players and people leading these organizations and finding synergy.”
During his tenure at Telfair, High sought to develop partnerships with local companies, schools, civic and cultural organizations. In 2008, his five-year strategic plan reinforced the diversity and synergy of the Telfair’s three sites: Telfair Academy, the Owens-Thomas House and the new Jepson Center for the Arts.
Telfair Museums ended 2010 with the highest attendance in the museum’s history — 180,000 visitors.
“Coming from the oldest art museum in the South, where I took a program that had been in existence for more than 120 years, and coming to this institution, it was a hard decision, but an opportunity I could not turn down,” High said.
Contact Loren Mayo at [email protected].