Monday, January 5, 2009

Paul Thompson Steps Down at Cooper-Hewitt

Paul W. Thompson, the director of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, is stepping down to become the new president of the Royal College of Art, London. Mr. Thompson, who is British, will leave the Cooper-Hewitt in August 2009 and start his new position in September. He took over the Cooper-Hewitt in March 2001, having previously served as director of the Design Museum in London.

“It’s such a wonderful job in the art and design world, I really couldn’t say no,” Mr. Thompson said in an interview. A search committee for his replacement comprised of Cooper-Hewitt trustees, Smithsonian executives and members of the design community was formed in December.

The Cooper-Hewitt is part of the Smithsonian Institution. During his tenure, Mr. Thompson has overseen an effort to expand the museum’s Fifth Avenue Carnegie Mansion, a $64 million project that will create 70 percent more exhibition gallery space, a new library and, additional classrooms for the museum’s masters program. Mr. Thompson said the museum has completed 65 percent of the fundraising.

The Smithsonian has been buffeted by controversy over the last two years; its former secretary, Lawrence M. Small, resigned in March 2007. G. Wayne Clough took over as secretary in July. “That is a sadness,” Mr. Thompson said. “Not being able to benefit and enjoy the new leadership of Wayne Clough.” But he added, museum directors come and go. “That is very much the cycle of life,” he said.

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