The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore named Julia Marciari-Alexander, head curator at the San Diego Museum of Art, as its new executive director Wednesday. Marciari-Alexander will replace Gary Vikan, who served as executive director of the Walters for 18 years. Marciari-Alexander will begin April 1.
“The reputation, the collection, the staff — the Walters is one of America’s greatest museums,” Marciari-Alexander said. “I wasn’t looking to leave San Diego, but when a call from the Walters comes up, you don’t say ‘No, thank you.’ ”
Marciari-Alexander, 45, joined the San Diego Museum of Art in 2008 as the deputy director for curatorial affairs. Prior to her tenure at San Diego, she spent more than 10 years at the Yale Center for British Art, where she served as an assistant curator of paintings and sculpture.
The search committee conducted a broad search for Vikan’s successor, reviewing more than 100 applicants. Vikan announced plans to step down from the directorship last May after 27 years with the museum. Ellen Bernard, a board member and chairman of the search committee, said she was impressed with Marciari-Alexander’s scholarship and charisma.
“There’s so much that stood out about Julia,” Bernard said. “Julia has really excellent credentials on the academic side and museum-administration side, but she’s also known for the collaborative approach and her engagement with the broader community. That’s very important to the Walters.”
This will be Marciari-Alexander’s first executive director appointment. In 2009, she served as the public face of a three-member team at the San Diego Museum of Art that assumed the duties of departing Director Derrick Cartwright while the museum board searched for his successor.
“It was a great leadership exercise, working as a single team driving the institution,” Marciari-Alexander said.
The Walters Art Museum, which opened in 1934 after William and Henry Walters bequeathed 22,000 works to the city of Baltimore, has grown to include more than 30,000 pieces spanning from the 3rd millennium B.C. to the early 20th century. In 2006, the museum eliminated all admission fees through a government partnership with Baltimore City and County.
While the Walters’s collection is almost double the size of the permanent collection at the San Diego Museum of Art, Marciari-Alexander said the museums are comparable in budget and mission.
“One of the big similarities is that San Diego and Baltimore are communities on the rise,” Marciari-Alexander said. “Both are collaborative in how they think about the arts and know that art and culture can create a strong city.”