The Philadelphia Museum of Art has named Sasha Suda, CEO and director of the National Gallery of Canada, as its next director. She will begin in her role in September, taking over from Timothy Rub, who led the museum for 13 years and stepped down in January.
The PMA has been embroiled in controversy since 2020, when a New York Times report revealed that the museum had failed to properly investigate allegations of misconduct against a former employee, Joshua Helmer. Helmer had served as the PMA’s assistant director for interpretation from 2014 to 2018, when he resigned for unspecified reasons.
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Three employees filed complaints against Helmer as early as 2016, though some workers at the museum told the Times that they were unsure of whether their claims were internally investigated. A few months after leaving PMA, he became a director at the Erie Museum of Art; days after the Times investigation, he was fired from his post there.
Later in 2020, Rub and the museum’s then-president Gail Harrity faced further controversy after sending a letter to staff on May 31 that characterized peaceful Black Lives Matter protests in the city as “compromised by the looting and destruction of property” and writing that “every individual life matters.” A group of Black employees responded with their own letter, writing that Rub and Harrity’s letter “failed to recognize or ask how we, as Black people, must be feeling at this time.”
By August, a majority of the institution’s employees voted to unionize. The following month, Harrity resigned. Prior to his resignation in August 2021, Rub reportedly apologized to PMA employees in a closed-door meeting.
In a statement, the PMA’s board chair Leslie Anne Miller said, “We believe Sasha’s arrival will mark a new era of growth and civic engagement for the museum. She is an accomplished arts scholar with an inspiring vision for the museum’s future and a proven commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and access. Sasha is the leader we need at this transformational moment.”
Identified as bringing “new-generation leadership to the PMA” in a release, Suda began her museum career at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where she held various roles in its Medieval department beginning in 2003. In 2011, she joined the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto as an assistant curator and was subsequently promoted to curator of European art and then chair of prints & drawing.
In 2019, she was named as the next leader of the National Gallery of Canada, becoming its youngest director since World War I. She also served on the jury that selected Stan Douglas for the Canadian Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale.
In a release announcing her departure from the National Gallery of Canada, that institution’s board chair, Françoise Lyon, said that Suda “led the creation of the National Gallery of Canada’s first-ever strategic plan, embraced reconciliation, justice, equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility, and revitalized the institutional brand.”
In a statement, Suda said, “With its exceptional artistic program and internationally renowned collection, the [Philadelphia Museum of Art] is one of the world’s most important cultural institutions. I look forward to working collaboratively with the Board, the internal teams, and our partners to enhance the museum’s relevance and build on its success locally, nationally, and globally.”