The Nassau County Museum of Art appointed an interim director after not renewing the contract of its former director due to a difference in priorities for the museum.
Fernanda Bennett, who has been working at the museum for 38 years and is the collections manager and deputy director, was appointed as the museum’s interim director.
“I’m more of the person who you don’t see on the surface but makes sure that everything is running,” Bennett said.
In the interim position, Bennet said she will maintain the overall operational aspects of the museum and liaise with guest curators until a permanent director is implemented.
“I’m going to do what I can to keep the museum operating and moving in a positive direction,” Bennett said. “I’ve been here for many decades, I know all about all the departments, all the trustees. I have worked on hundreds upon hundreds of exhibitions and I’ve developed a reputation for being able to get projects done in a timely manner and on budget.”
Bennett said that former director Charles A. Riley II’s contract was renewed periodically and was facing renewal in August.
She said Riley and the museum’s board of trustees did not “see eye to eye” on the museum’s future goals and activities, thus the board decided not to renew his contract last month.
Riley served as the museum’s director for six years.
Bennett said the decision was made by the board but is uncertain whether the decision was made mutually with Riley.
Efforts to contact Riley were unavailing.
The museum’s chief development officer, Michael Gurtowski, also said there was a difference in opinion about the museum’s priorities between Riley and the board.
Gurtowski said that while Riley excelled as an art historian and had a depth of knowledge about arts to impart to the museum, the board was looking to take a more holistic approach to directing the museum.
This included focusing on other aspects of what the museum officers, such as its venue services and the cultural landscape of the museum’s land.
He said the board is looking to implement a new director that will focus on all of the museum’s programs.
Fernanda said she will be working with the board’s executive committee in the coming weeks to discuss the search for a new director.
She said that while she plans to stay with the museum, she does not have the academic background like Riley and other previous directors to fulfill the position in the long term.
“I’m more interested in seeing the museum grow and succeed,” Bennett said. “We have many projects that we’ve been working on and I want to see them come to fruition.”