Under her leadership, the Harn Museum of Art’s membership grew six times as large as it began.
Now, after 16 years working around art exhibitions and collections, Rebecca Nagy will retire in June 2018.
While she was director, the amount of people registered as museum members increased from 1,000 to more than 6,000, Nagy said. Through partnerships with UF Student Government and other fundraising efforts, including private donations, the museum made membership free for everyone.
“More people have become part of our family, as we like to say,” Nagy said. “That has been a real joy for me.”
The UF Office of the Provost appointed a search committee, which started the national search to replace Nagy. The goal is to have a new director by the time she leaves, said Nagy, adding she’s retiring because she thinks it’s time for a new leader to create the next vision for the museum.
Eric Segal, the museum’s director of education and curator of academic programs, said the most valuable contribution Nagy made to the museum was building relationships between the museum and people from the local public and private sectors.
“The community is becoming more and more engaged in the museum and recognizing that it’s not just that thing that is on the other side of the UF campus,” he said. “People are starting to really see the Harn Museum of Art is a great resource for sort of every aspect of Gainesville and Alachua County.”
As part of her integration efforts, Nagy created Segal’s position to better engage with UF, he said. The museum also raised its number of curators from three to six.
She also raised funds for an education program that allowed students from the Duval Early Learning Academy to visit the museum. After the pilot program last year with Duval, Segal said the program grew and added four more visiting centers this year.
Since Nagy was appointed, endowments supporting the Harn have grown to a total value of $19.2 million, according to a news release. This includes 22 new endowments, estimated at a current value of $8.48 million.
But funding and membership are not the only numbers that have escalated under Nagy’s direction. The Harn’s art collections have expanded from nearly 5,000 works to more than 11,000 works, according to the news release.
During Nagy’s time, the museum got a wing with galleries for contemporary art, classrooms and a cafe in 2005 and a wing for Asian art in 2012.
Segal said Nagy is a nurturing leader. Although it’s unusual for an organization’s director to do so, Nagy takes on interns under her wing every semester, including her final semester in the Spring.
She does it because she believes in the museum’s mission to serve students, Segal said. She also knows the future of museums depends on future generations.
It’s her way of telling the 62 museum staff members: “If I can do it, you can, too,” Segal said.
A particular skill Nagy has is she remembers everything. Segal said she always keeps the museum’s strategic plan and its goals in mind, and constantly checks in with employees.
“I have learned a tremendous amount from her as a leader,” he said. “She set a really high bar for consistency, integrity, transparency, energy — anything that ends with a ‘y’ and is positive.”
Segal said he thinks it won’t be difficult for the new museum’s director to continue Nagy’s legacy because she created the initial connections within the community.
As for Nagy, she’s not sure what the next challenge she takes on will be.
“I feel like I need a break and a refresh to think about what I’ll do next,” she said.