Caplan is the third board member to leave since early June. The board has lost seven members since last year, including former board chair J. Tomlison Hill, for whom she took over last fall.
MEMO TO: Board of Trustees, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
G. Wayne Clough, Secretary, Smithsonian Institution
Richard Kurin, Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture
All Hirshhorn Museum staff
FROM: Connie Caplan, Chair, Board of Trustees, Hirshhorn Museum
Dear Hirshhorn Trustees and Staff, Dear Drs. Clough and Kurin:
I hope this finds you well following an enjoyable holiday weekend.
After much thought, and taking many factors into consideration, I am writing to inform you that I have decided to resign as Chair of the Hirshhorn’s Board of Trustees. In addition to personal reasons regarding other time commitments, my decision is based on a series of events these past few months that I have found increasingly troubling, and that have led me to prefer not to remain involved with the Museum and the Smithsonian at this time.
I make this announcement with much regret, since my admiration for both organizations, especially in terms of their collections and research capacities, continues to be as strong as the day I first joined the Board of Trustees. What disturbs me is the contentious manner and lack of inclusiveness with which a number of trustees and staff associated with the Hirshhorn and the Smithsonian have behaved over the past year — factors that also led to the resignations of the prior Board Chair, the Director, and several key Trustees — and persistent indications that this behavior will only continue.
I am certainly not suggesting that 100 percent consensus on every issue has been - or ever would be — my goal as Chair; this is not possible or even desirable with any governing body. What I would expect at the Hirshhorn, however, is that as with all of the other leading nonprofit boards on which I have served, an open and candid decision — making process would prevail between our Trustees, as well as between the Board and the Smithsonian as the Museum’s parent organization. Yet as we have all seen in recent months, this has certainly not been the case, as witnessed by the shocking breaches in confidentiality, inappropriate interruptions during Board meetings, and other negative behavior. In terms of decision-making as well, I was also disappointed that the full Hirshhorn Board was not given the opportunity by the Smithsonian to carefully review and be apprised of the appointment of the Interim Director in advance — a routine courtesy at other leading institutions, and our board’s right as stewards of the Museum and finally the utter disregard of my involvement in setting agendas, meeting dates and Trustee activities of the Board. (Perhaps I should have understood this concentration of power when accepting the position of Chair, but now that it is clear, it has become very troubling.)