Baltimore Museum of Art Director Christopher Bedford will leave the museum June 3, after nearly six years with the institution, to lead the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).
Bedford will replace Neal Benezra, who resigned as director of the SFMOMA last year.
After opening its expanded museum in May 2016, the SFMOMA nearly tripled its gallery space and now spans 45,000 square feet.
The San Francisco museum has a $53.4 million budget, 360 staff members, and a $500 million endowment — all larger than the Baltimore Museum of Art, which in 2021 had a $16.9 million budget, 182 staff members, and a $197.6 million endowment. Neither institution has a deficit, the New York Times reported.
Bedford will become the latest leader of a Baltimore arts and culture institution to step down this year, after the upcoming departure of American Visionary Art Museum founding director Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, who is retiring in March.
Marin Alsop, longtime music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the first woman to lead a major U.S. orchestra, also stepped down last year.
Anne Brown, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Museum of Art, said “this was entirely Chris’s decision.”
Clair Zamoiski Segal, chair of the BMA Board of Trustees, wrote in a letter to community members Wednesday that the board will form a search committee to identify the museum’s next director.
“We anticipate a rigorous and expansive process guided by our core values, and we are confident that we will find an individual who shares our vision for the future of the BMA,” she said.
Segal added that Bedford and senior leadership will work together “in the coming months … to ensure a seamless handoff of operational duties.”
Brown said details about the selection process are still to come.
“We really don’t have any other information,” she said. “This is all very new.”
A nine-member committee led the SFMOMA’s nearly year-long search for its next director and unanimously recommended Bedford to that museum’s board of trustees.
“We have found in Chris a brave, empathic, inclusive and passionate leader; he is at a point in his career that combines impressive achievements with an open mindset and the ability to listen, learn and evolve with and for our community,” the search committee said in a statement. “He prioritizes collaboration, dialogue and engagement across leadership, staff and audiences — values and skills that are exactly what we were looking for. We are thrilled to welcome him to the Bay Area and to SFMOMA, and we are eager to work with him in support of an exciting future for the museum.”
Bedford took the helm of the Baltimore Museum of Art in 2016, succeeding former director Doreen Bolger.
Before arriving at his current post, Bedford was the director of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University.
Under Bedford’s leadership, Segal said the Baltimore Museum of Art “reinvigorated our mission in 2018 to transform the BMA into a museum that places diversity and equity alongside artistic excellence at its core and better reflects the community that it serves.”
She said the museum’s commitment to equity is unchanged by Bedford’s departure.
The museum drew national attention multiple times during Bedford’s time as director.
In 2020, the museum announced plans to sell off three major artworks. The sales were expected to generate more than $65 million, which museum officials said would support the BMA’s “Endowment for the Future.” But after facing backlash, the museum called off the deaccession of those pieces.
Previously, in 2018, the museum sold seven artworks in order to showcase more art by people of color and women.
And in 2019, the museum announced its 2020 Vision, a year of exhibitions and programs dedicated to women artists, and $2 million to purchase art made by women. The move garnered an array of responses, including in a piece by BmoreArt.
Staff at the Baltimore Museum of Art moved to unionize last fall, citing concerns about safety during the coronavirus pandemic, pay equity and more. Workers at the Walters Art Museum launched a similar unionization effort at their museum last summer.
Baltimore Museum of Art workers have called on Bedford to voluntarily recognize their union, but Bedford has so far declined.
“As an institution, the BMA respects the right of our staff to unionize, and we have affirmed in communications to all colleagues that should a majority vote to form a union that the Museum will work collaboratively with union representatives,” museum officials wrote in a statement in October 2021.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article include a photo caption that incorrectly identified the Baltimore Museum of Art’s director as “Mark Bedford.” The museum’s director is Christopher Bedford.