Ivy Barsky, CEO and director of the National Museum of American Jewish History, resigned from her post on May 20 and will end her tenure on June 30. She has led the museum since 2012.
“It has been a great privilege to lead our museum that does what no other museum in this country does — uniquely preserving and interpreting American Jewish history,” Barsky said in a statement. “This history celebrates the best of America and what this country has made possible, as well as its ongoing challenges and the work yet to be done. I count the opportunity to lead this remarkable institution among my finest career experiences. I look forward to my next professional adventure knowing I have made significant contributions to NMAJH.”
Barsky could not be reached for further comment.
“We are deeply appreciative of Ivy’s leadership and dedication,” said museum board of trustees chair Philip Darivoff in a statement. “She was a determined champion of our mission in an increasingly competitive landscape for cultural institutions of every type. Ivy has embraced every challenge with an unwavering commitment. Ivy built a great team and the staff is an important part of the museum’s future.”
During Barsky’s tenure, the museum crafted an education program around the Core Exhibition (the permanent collection), and launched special exhibition programming. The museum also acquired George Washington’s 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, through a long-term loan. Among the major exhibitions of her tenure were “Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music,” “Richard Avedon: Family Affairs” and “Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Becoming American.”
Barsky also led the effort to expand the museum’s national footprint, a longtime goal of the board. She also oversaw the creation of the National Educators Institute and the creation of a national curriculum on American Jewish history.
The museum is now showing “Sara Berman’s Closet,” an art installation created by the writer and artist Maira Kalman and her son Alex Kalman, who is also an artist.
Barsky’s tenure included significant financial difficulties for the museum at times. In 2017, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the museum eliminated 18 of the 50 full-time staff positions, among other cuts, to save $1.3 million annually; Barsky herself took a pay cut during that period.
“The plan is to get smaller to get stronger,” Barsky said at the time. “So we’re focusing on things close to the core of our mission, like education, with a few important national initiatives.”
Maud Lyon, president of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, stressed that NMAJH is far from alone in struggling financially. The difficulties of securing funding for public arts and culture institutions are well-established, and history in Philadelphia “has had a particularly challenging time,” Lyon said.
“Ivy’s done a great job under difficult circumstances,” Lyon added. “Trying to maintain a museum with a fairly large footprint is not a small task.”
Stephen A. Cozen, vice chair of the museum board, told the Inquirer that the museum’s finances were “not a consideration for me” for the near future, and that the museum’s future was “well in hand.”
“I have nothing but good things to say about Ivy and the hard work and dedication that she has put in to the museum,” he told the Exponent.
In the meantime, the board of directors has tapped Misha Galperin, president of ZANDAFI Philanthropy Advisors, “to immediately begin working with the board and staff to establish a successful transition plan over the next several weeks,” according to a NMAJH statement. Galperin is an internationally recognized nonprofit consultant.