New executive director picked for TN State Museum

The Douglas Henry State Museum Commission has selected Ashley Brown Howell, the deputy director at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, to succeed Lois Riggins-Ezell as its executive director, reports Cari Wade Gervin for the Nashville Post.

It seemed like the first motion to hire Howell failed on a voice vote. But before the Commission could take a roll call vote to confirm the failure, chair Tom Smith called for a five-minute recess. When the body returned, Smith asked that the motion to hire Howell be withdrawn, even though one cannot withdraw a motion one has voted on. However, the members went along with the violation of parliamentary procedure, and then recessed for 40 minutes. Once the meeting resumed, the DHSMC voted unanimously (with two members abstaining) to hire Howell.

Howell is a Nashville native with a B.A. degree in art history and an M.S. degree in communications from the University of Tennessee, and an M.B.A. degree in nonprofit management from Boston University. She has been the deputy director of the First since 2009, working her way up from the director of development and director of administration at the museum since 2007. She also has worked in development at UT and worked in public relations at the Knoxville Museum of Art.

The Commission apparently favored Howell’s Tennessee ties over the progressive qualifications of Paul Levengood, the former head of the Virginia Historical Society. State Sen. Bo Watson seemed concerned that in Levengood’s eight years running the Richmond-based museum, he had hired a research fellow focused on LGBT history in Virginia. Watson also made both candidates add him as a friend on Facebook in attempt to research their social media presence, a potential violation of employment law. However, the DHSMC did vote 6 to 5 that if it can’t come to terms with Howell, it will then attempt to hire Levengood.

Both candidates were interviewed for 20 to 30 minutes apiece by the Commission, after the DHSMC Search Committee met yesterday and recommended advancing the two over an additional three candidates. None of the five was named in the meeting, and the full body were not told who the two finalists were until 10 a.m. this morning, when they were presented with two resumes; no other dossier was made available. Commissioner Victor Ashe criticized this process.

“Withholding the names of the two finalists to the start of the meeting this morning was unfortunate and harmful to a fair and open process to choose the new executive director for the State Museum. It reduces our ability to formulate thoughtful questions about the individuals. It does not get the new director off to a strong start,” Ashe said.


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