Sizing up the Graduate Degrees of 17 Top Museum Directors

1215636_linear_measureI’ve often heard that you create your own career success and there isn’t one “correct” path to follow. Tonight I looked up the academic backgrounds of the museum directors leading 17 of the top 25 most visited museums and I found that it’s true: there isn’t one path to success–at least not in the museum world, and at least not in terms of a specific graduate degree.

Whenever I visit a museum that impresses me (for any number of reasons: innovative exhibits, creative outreach efforts– things that require an element of risk, in the name of education, on the part of the museum), I immediately look up the bio of the museum’s President/C.E.O. It’s just a habit that I have. I’ve often wondered what it takes to reach the top of the museum-ladder. What do you need to do to be that person who gets to make decisions about cutting-edge exhibits and programs? How do you get to be the great mastermind behind the community partnerships?

I am not arguing that these are the only innovative museums out there, and I am especially not displaying a survey of what degrees are common for all museum directors… but I think these findings are interesting as there are several types of degrees represented; and there certainly is not a clear path indicated here.

When possible, I included the field in which the degree was received. The eight missing institutions from the list of the 25 most visited were omitted because bios were difficult to find. Please post a comment if you find the academic information for any of the other museums that are not included on this list!

Here’s a quick summary of my findings:

  1. The only type of degree that all 17 leaders have is a bachelor’s degree.
  2. Directors with master’s degrees and doctorates: 8 (slightly less than half)
  3. Master’s degrees only: 2
  4. M.B.As: 3
  5. J.Ds: 2
  6. Directors with a only bachelor’s degree: 2
  7. Percent of included directors with an MBA, JD, or Ph.D:  76.5%
  8. Number of directors with degrees from Harvard: 5 (29%)
  9. Total number of degrees earned by these 17 directors: 41
  10. Average number of degrees earned by each director: 2.4
  11. Number of directors with degrees from top-ten Universities: 11
  12. Male directors: 14 (82.3%)
  13. Female directors: 3 (17.6%)

Take a look:

Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C.

  • Cristián Samper- B.A.-Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá; M.A. and Ph.D. - Harvard University

National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

  • Earl A. Powell III- B.A.- Williams College; M.A. and Ph.D.- Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, N.Y.

  • Thomas P. Campbell- B.A. (English) University of Oxford; M.A. – Courtauld Institute of Art

American Museum of Natural History, New York, N.Y.

  • Ellen Futter- B.A.- Barnard College; J.D.- Columbia University

Museum of Modern Art, New York, N.Y.

  • Glenn D. LowryB.A.-Williams College; M.A. and Ph.D. (History of Art)- Harvard University

Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston, TX

  • Joel Bartsch- B.A.-Concordia University; M.A.- Rice University; Ph.D. candidate- Rice University

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.

  • Sara J. Bloomfield- B.A. (English)- Northwestern University; M.A. (Education)- John Carroll University

Museum of Science, Boston, MA.

  • Ioannis  N. Miaoulis- B.S. and Ph.D. (mechanical engineering)- Tufts University; M.A. (economics)- Tufts University; M.A. (mechanical engineering)- Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C.

  • Kevin Grover- B.A. (public and international affairs)- Princeton University; J.D.-  University of New Mexico.

California Science Center, Los Angeles, CA.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX

  • Peter C. Marzio. B.A.-Juniata College; M.A. and Ph.D.- The University of Chicago

The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center Museum, Los Angeles, CA.

  • Michael Brand- B.A. (Asian studies)-Australian National University in Canberra; M.A. and Ph.D.- Harvard University

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Portland, OR.

  • Nancy Stueber- B.S. (environmental biology & terrestrial ecology)- University of Pittsburgh

St. Louis Science Center, St. Louis, MO.

  • Douglas King- B.S. (engineering)- Stanford University; M.B.A. (finance)- University of Washington.

National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.

  • Martin E. Sullivan, B.A.- Siena College; M.A. and Ph.D. (history)- University of Notre Dame

Guggenheim Museum, New York , N.Y.

Field Museum, Chicago, IL.

Information supplied through comments  regarding missing museum directors (thanks for your help in filling in the blanks!):

The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

  • James Cuno- B.A.- Willamette University; M.A. and Ph.D. (art history)- Harvard University
Posted on by colleendilen in Education, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Management, Museums 6 Comments

About the author


MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore

6 Responses to Sizing up the Graduate Degrees of 17 Top Museum Directors

  1. cici

    lake forest college!!

  2. EdnaMo

    Jim Cuno of the Art Institute of Chicago earned his PhD in art history from Harvard, but he actually came to the field a little late in his academic career. He started out wanting to be a professional baseball player.

    • colleendilen

      Thanks for that fun tidbit, EdnaMo! I love learning those details; it really helps in making him (and other directors) feel relatable. What a cool little fact!

  3. Amber Kerr-Allison

    You may want to take note that the DWRC has two directors, one for each of the museums that resides there.

    Marin Sullivan is the director of the National Portrait Gallery and Elizabeth Broun is the director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM). SAAM is the larger portion of the collection on display and includes the Luce Center and Lunder Conservation Center.

    • colleendilen

      Great catch! Just made the changes according to your comment. Thanks so much for the correction!

  4. Pingback: The Path to Success in the Museum World: Finding the Story «

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