Former director of Israel Museum to lead Jewish Museum in New York

James Snyder not expected to make major curatorial changes, though institution may begin exploring exhibitions on antisemitism

James Snyder at the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum in Jerusalem, Israel, July 10, 2016. (Dan Porges/Getty Images via JTA)
James Snyder at the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum in Jerusalem, Israel, July 10, 2016. (Dan Porges/Getty Images via JTA)

JTA – The next director of New York’s Jewish Museum will be James Snyder, the former director of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem who is known as a prolific fundraiser for Jewish causes.

Snyder, 71, will assume the role in November after serving for the past four years as the executive chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation, supporting projects that foster and showcase coexistence and diversity in the city.

Museum officials said Snyder was selected because of his 40-year track record in museum leadership, which includes 22 years at the helm of the Israel Museum and, earlier in his career, as deputy director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

“Running a museum today is harder than it’s ever been and James’s experience is a huge asset for us at this time,” Robert Pruzan, the museum’s board chairman, told the New York Times. “James has a very expansive vision of the opportunity for the museum, aligned with the board.”

Under the leadership of Claudia Gould, who stepped down in June after 12 years, the Jewish Museum earned praise for putting on a variety of exhibitions in the fields of art, fashion and design framed around Jewish themes.

Pruzan told the New York Times that the museum is not looking for Snyder to make major curatorial changes.  But he also suggested that Snyder could steer the institution into new territory by taking on current issues such as antisemitism, a departure from its tradition as a center for art and culture.

Installation view of ‘Scenes from the Collection’ at The Jewish Museum, New York. (Jason Mandella)

“The opportunity is to explore how we can play a leadership role around societal issues like antisemitism and demonstrate the importance of culturally specific institutions in advancing the dialogue on these topics through our exhibitions and education programming,” Pruzan said.

Established in 1904 in the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Jewish Museum is considered to be the first museum in the United States to focus on a specific culture.

In a recent article in the Sapir Journal on the future of museums, Snyder argued that amid the rise in polarization and extremism around the world, cultural institutions have a special responsibility. He called on museums to embrace “cultural diplomacy” and “explore and celebrate the wonders of social and communal inclusion and integration that give strength to the backbone of world history.”

After Snyder took the helm of the Israel Museum in 1997, he elevated its profile as a center for visual art and archaeology. He oversaw a $100 million expansion at the museum’s 20-acre campus. Under his leadership, the museum saw its annual attendance more than double to about 1 million visitors. The institution’s endowment increased from $40 million to $200 million during Snyder’s tenure.

He now takes over a museum with an endowment of $114 million and a growing number of visitors.

“In addition to its deep and far-ranging collections, dynamic exhibition programming, and professional expertise, what drew me to the Museum is the opportunity it offers to anchor Jewish world culture in the context of the times and places where it has flourished globally,” Snyder said in a statement attached to the museum’s announcement of his new role on Monday.

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