At first glance, it seems as if a plug has been jiggled, slowly draining out arts leadership out of Southwest Florida. The "help wanted" signs are out for two orchestra directors, two museum directors and, until last week, an arts center director in Collier and Lee counties.
The Naples Art Association at the von Liebig Art Center last week named Aimee Schlehr, already the center's chief operating officer, as its new executive director (see sidebar). But the Patty & Jay Baker Museum of Art, the Golisano Children's Museum of Naples, the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra and the Southwest Florida Symphony Orchestra are all still looking for leaders.
Don't worry, says one among their ranks, David Imbrogno, who is an interim director for CMON. Imbrogno is an employee of the Dragonfly Group in Berlin Center, Ohio, which offers consultation to institutions in transition, including supplying administrative help. Imbrogno said arts leadership everywhere is in flux.
"During the last several years, when funding was tight, people weren't going anywhere. They stayed put," he said. "The economy is loosening up a bit, so people are looking around."
The upside of that, he added, is that there's a good pool of candidates for local institutions to choose from. Here are those who are looking, and what their timetables are:
The Patty & Jay Baker Naples Museum of Art
As the record-holding institution without a pilot, the museum has been through four directors in its 12 years and its top office has spent the entire first year of Philharmonic Center CEO Kathleen van Bergen's tenure empty.
Van Bergen and the board retained a search company, Phillips Oppenheim, to get the job done, with van Bergen emphasizing she wanted people with art expertise driving. Although there are rumors the new director may be announced as early as when the museum opens Sept. 22, van Bergen said her hopes are a bit less fixed.
"I would hope we would have someone on the ground in this calendar year," she said. "I know art lovers would be happy to hear that. I would be very happy as well. ... I miss having that expertise."
Van Bergen confirmed what Imbrogno said. There are a wealth of resumes floating around: "The field is booming. As an example, I recently attended the American Association of Museums conference, and there were 5,000 delegates who attended."
The board has put an emphasis on having a quality product to offer as well, she said.
The Naples museum recently qualified to become a member of the museum association, a precursor to receiving accreditation.
In turn, van Bergen says she wants a director to commit to Naples, to live here and take an active interest in the community.
The Naples Philharmonic Orchestra
Under previous Naples Philharmonic Center CEO, Myra Janco Daniels, the search had been narrowed to four candidates after its contract with Jorge Mester was not renewed when it expired last spring. Her successor reopened that search.
Van Bergen, a former musician, said she wanted no possibility left unchecked, and has added a strong component of effective management and development, as well as audience and musician rapport. Candidates now are viewed in social settings as well as onstage.
"Techniques that are necessary to strong conducting are important. There's a communication component that needs to be clear, not just verbally. It needs to be emotional communication, as well, of the power of that emotion to those on stage and in the audience," van Bergen said.
"A time commitment is critical. We have to compete with positions around world, and conductors now hold multiple assignments. But we want to make sure Naples can be carved out of anyone's career in the size it deserves.
"We have a fantastic orchestra and a great community. We want to make sure we have the right person for both of them."
Although it's not a promise, van Bergen does hope she can announce a new music director by the end of the music season in April.
Golisano Children's Museum of Naples
Joe Cox, who nurtured the fledgling museum's building campaign, design and opening, announced July 30 he had accepted a directorship with EcoTarium, a major science and nature center in Worcester, Mass.
The museum board has quickly swung into action, naming a search committee under Anne Thomas and Martha Meyers.
Photo by DAVID ALBERS, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo
"We put together a profile of what we were looking for early on in the process," Thomas said. "We're hoping to finding the ideal candidate who can show evidence of successful fundraising leadership, offers a provable record in sustainable facial strategies, and demonstrates a management style that promotes and supports creativity and accountability."
She and Imbrogno said the museum, which opened in February, has reached a new stage.
"You need one type of person for the building and development, and it's very often the case that mindset — for building and creating and envisioning a startup — is different from operating," Imbrogno said. "It's very common for leadership from that era to move on." Not to mention, he added, that Cox received an exceptional offer.
Thomas said the museum has the consulting help of a New York company, Kittleman.
"We're in the middle of the search process. We've had the first round of interviews and we're hoping to have someone in place by high season" she said, but conceded, "It's hard to know if we'll be able to do it. There are lots of variables."
Finding the right person is paramount, she said.
"We've created this jewel in Naples that has had an early success and we want to keep that going."
Southwest Florida Symphony Orchestra
When the Fort Myers-based Southwest Florida Symphony's board of trustees decided last spring not to renew the contract of its previous director, Michael Hall, it first called in a directing consultant, Leif Bjaland, to keep programming strong and serve as an interim conductor.
Next, it put together a 9-member search committee that included members of the community as well as musicians and board members.
Fran Goldman, executive director, said the committee has already received 50 applicants in the two weeks it has publicized the search. She expects at least 100 more.
The committee is viewing videotapes of the applicants and hope to narrow the number down to 15, then down to a final four, with a decision to be made by the end of the 2014 season.
If that seems like a long road, Goldman said she was surprised to hear the orchestra, a per-service organization, welcoming it.
"In talking with some of the orchestra members, they're actually very excited to be working with guest conductors," Goldman said. "This perhaps gives them a chance to expand themselves musically and forge a new direction."
The entire board has seen this as an opportunity to recruit a music director who will draw in more of the community, she added.
"This is what ours have been looking for … beyond the music and fundraising, though they're important: someone who can really speak to the community leaders."