On December 23, the Board of Trustees at the Parrish Art Museum announced that museum Director Kelly Taxter had resigned from the position.
Taxter, who officially began at the Parrish on March 22, was in the job for less than a year.
In a statement, the board wrote: “Under her direction, the Parrish reopened last March with renewed energy and enjoyed a successful spring and summer season. The board appreciates the enthusiasm Kelly brought to the Parrish community and her passion to cultivate and promote contemporary artists of the East End.”
Taxter assumed the role of director from former Deputy Director Chris Siefert, who took over as interim director in June 2020 following the departure of Terrie Sultan. Sultan had been in the position since 2008 and she oversaw the design, construction and opening of the museum’s new facility in Water Mill in 2012.
Prior to joining the Parrish, Taxter had served as the Barnett and Annalee Newman Curator of Contemporary Art at the Jewish Museum in New York City.
“I began my role as director of The Parrish Art Museum in late March 2021 and was excited for the challenges that lay ahead,” Taxter said in the statement. “It was a very difficult decision to resign from my position. It has been wonderful to be part of the excitement and energy that has surrounded the institution since I began, and I thank the staff for their dedication and hard work through a transitional and complex time. The Parrish is an important cultural center that brings together many communities. It was an honor to be part of their good work, and I wish the staff and the board the best as they move the museum forward.”
The board concluded its statement by thanking Taxter for her contributions.
In a phone interview following the announcement’s release, board President and Co-Chair Mary E. Frank said in discussing Taxter’s tenure, “She did an amazing job — in February we announced her arrival. I remember clearly at this time last year the search committee met her and thought that we have the right person. She brought so much energy to the museum, broadened our horizons with new collectors and artists on the East End, and was so plugged into the arts circuit — it was what we were hoping for.”
Frank credited Taxter for organizing the Parrish’s August Midsummer Weekend, a series of three successful parties that benefited the museum, including a dance party chaired by Larry Milstein, a young philanthropist who brought in a cohort representing the next generation of arts supporters.
“She also started a collector’s circle for people supporting the museum and they joined because she was the director,” Frank said.
When asked if Taxter was challenged by the fact that she had never before served as director of a museum, Frank responded, “We knew there would be a learning curve. She’s all about the art, and she excelled. That’s what I love, it’s the art, and that was the affinity I had with her. That’s what I appreciate so much about her still — her comfort level with artists.
Now, the board is tasked with finding someone to replace Taxter who can do exactly that. It’s something they probably didn’t expect they’d be doing less than a year later.
“In life, it’s live and learn,” Frank admitted. “It’s a very fluid time in the art world. I saw a staggering statistic that 21 museums are doing searches for directors right now.”
When asked what qualities the Parrish board will be looking for in its next director, Frank said, “It’s like falling in love. When you meet the person and it’s a right fit, it’s a right fit. There’s always a degree of uncertainty in hiring someone. Hopefully, next time, it will be longer term. I’m not sure what we’ll focus on, but we have a long checklist of what we want.
“It’s a complicated community,” she added. “You have the local community, who it’s so critical to serve, and I think we do a great job, and then the summer people, who are critical to success. You have to be deeply sensitive, too.”
Besides recent transitions at the top, the Parrish has also seen a fair number of staff departures across the board in the last couple years. When asked why she thinks this has been the case, Frank said, “It’s always concerning to lose good people. Much of it is COVID. There were also people who very loyal to Terrie. Between Terrie and COVID, everyone stepped back and reevaluated how they want to spend their time. A lot of people said, ‘This is not for me. I want to do something else.’”
COVID-19 challenges have indeed made for difficult times for all arts organizations, but Frank feels that the Parrish has adapted well given the circumstances.
“Last year, coming out of the pandemic it was really important to have events and shows at the museum, so we took it outside with ‘Field of Dreams,’ and this year, brought people back in for the Lichtenstein show and ‘Affinities for Abstraction’ of women artists, and now the three East End artists who we’re showing. We’ve also tried to do more fundraisers and high profile events and the Midsummer Party over the whole pandemic.”
When asked how COVID-19 has changed the board’s focus going forward, Frank said, “I’ve been thinking about that a lot. Last year, we closed for January and February out of an abundance of caution. As it turned out, it wasn’t as bad as everyone feared in winter.
“This year, we’ve been talking about what if we have to close again? In March 2020, when we had to close, no one knew how it worked, how the virus was transmitted, it was all a huge unknown. Now, we have a much better understanding of how waves of virus come through. They do abate, and, fortunately, we have a 6,000-square-foot outdoor terrace where we can do events six or seven months of the year. On December 27, we’re also instituting a new requirement that everyone who comes into the museum be vaccinated.”
As the search commences for a new director, Frank said the good news is that a replacement has been identified for the museum’s position of deputy director, which was vacated when Seifert left the Parrish in June to join the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.
“It’s just falling into place, so I can’t say who it is, but I made sure this person visited, spent time in the Hamptons and understood what the area was about before moving forward,” she said. “So we’ll have a new deputy director and that person will help steer the ship.”
Despite the many changes for the Parrish Art Museum over the course of the last two years, Frank stressed that the board remains committed and focused in its vision.
“We’re staying with our core mission, which is to show artists of the East End,” she said, noting that next summer, the Parrish will host an exhibition organized by the Wexner Center of Ohio featuring the work of North Fork artist Jacqueline Humphries. “Kelly brought that to us. If anything, Kelly has brought new, younger vigor to the kinds of artists we’re showing. But our core mission remains the same, which is to show artists who worked on or were inspired by the East End.”