Readers Write: Nassau County Museum of Art’s big blunder in not renewing Riley’s contract

Readers Write: Nassau County Museum of Art’s big blunder in not renewing Riley’s contract

We visited NCMA just a few weeks ago with another couple. As regular visitors, we asked if Charlie was in?

Shockingly, they replied “he’s no longer with us” and we have no word as to why.”

Inquiries to the museum went unanswered. We looked for coverage from Newsday. Nothing. Thanks to Great Neck News, we have some answers but not very good ones, at least for us. The following is my perspective on Mr. Riley’s contributions during his tenure at NCMA.

We are longtime members of NCMA at above the basic level. Charles A Riley ll energized, and rejuvenated the Museum. A true Renaissance man, fluent in several languages, dynamic in person and presentations, he was also indefatigable in his pursuit of collectors and their collections to present to the public.

Frankly, the years before he arrived were somewhat moribund. The board of trustees are the ‘aristocracy’ who can make needed donations, but not very attuned to the issues, and demands of trying to make a small museum relevant compared to their very big ‘cousins’ in NYC.

Instead of dismissing Mr. Riley, they should have hired a skilled business manager with an extensive background both in business and nonprofits.

Ms. Bennett’s, ‘interim director’s comment “I am more of a who you don’t see on the surface” reveals a numbers-oriented staffer who shies away from the limelight, not appreciating the public response to some dynamic showmanship’ where museums, opera, ballet, concerts, theater, movies and professional sports all compete for attention and financial support.

As for Michael Gurtowski, chief development officer, his comments about the board taking a more “holistic” approach, I ask, what the h__l are you talking about?

Sir, you cannot sell venue services if the museum lacks cache.

As for the “cultural landscape,” it really sings to us when graced by the creative displays that adorned the grounds appealing to all ages as assembled by Mr. Riley.

I recall one particular exhibit we were invited to tour at night by car as it was all lit up dazzlingly.

Steven M Walk

Great Neck

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  1. well expressed, Mr. Walk. We lost an energetic and enthusiastic director who placed our regional museum on the map. What a loss and it’s a pity that the two reps mentioned in the article were both so pathetically not seeing that. Going along, I guess, to save their own burger. Maybe they should be thinking of vacating their lots so real trained people can take over. No, that will not happen as we can see it is all a clique with personal interests invested. Border-line ethical violation here?

  2. Agreed. The Board must be a bunch of common barbarians for this ill-informed decision and the way it was handled. I wonder if they felt threatened by Dr. Riley’s intelligence, education, and inviting ways. They probably didn’t want to spend the money to hire the two people (which they historically have had), but now the museum will suffer in reputation which will obviously impact finances, as well. To not recognize the genius, generosity of spirit, and jewel of a guy that they had in Dr. Riley just shows how ignorant and short-sighted they must be. Many in the community are shocked, and I’ve heard grumblings around that this leaves such a bad taste in one’s mouth about this lovely museum, because this action says so much about where it is headed. Bennett may have been there for a long time, but her words show little soul, and Gurtowski has only been there for a hot minute, so I’m not even sure why he was quoted in the original article ( As stated above, how can you sell venue services at a place lacking caché and excitement, with a soiled reputation? Dr. Riley will be an impossible act to follow. Sure, he probably had shortcomings, and eventually they will hire a “Director” and a “Curator,” but simply put, it will never be the same. Good luck.

    • you hit the nail on its head, sir. This gem of a place in our community is ruined by short-sighted lackeys. Art is so beyond their scope of the mind??? sad sad ….

  3. All the facts. I am wondering, what’s the concern of the board? Many people protested against it. The only reply are the words from two representatives.
    It is tricky!

  4. I’m wondering if perhaps the Board got mixed up, and instead of “denying” their own renewals, they did this. Perhaps it’s time for the Board to read the writing on the wall — not the walls of the museum where their names are, but the wall of this commentary, along with the commentary here:, and the commentary on the Petition Page:

    The Board should feel shamed. They should know that their ignorance is now known to the public. They should know that stench of this misstep will be associated with their names forever, and that people in the community who really, truly know anything about art stand with Dr. Riley.

  5. Yes what the Bord did is shameful and self serving and should be investigated by local authorities. As an internationally recognized artist who has had the honor to be included in several of Charles Riley’s ground breaking exhibitions, I like to point out that it has been Prof
    Riley’s expertise, vision and reputation that has brought in first rate artists, collectors and has made it possible for otherwise unwilling institutions to loan out significant pieces of work for the community to enjoy. Charles Riley has put this institution on the map beyond the tri-state area and on the international art scene. He has brought much needed attention to local artists and outsider communities. His integrity, dedication to and knowledge about art, his humanist inclusive vision and his sincere wish to serve and do what is best for the Museum – like defending the museum grounds from encroaching commercial interests, should be defended by all those who wish for transparent, well funded and now highly regarded institution to continue.
    It is time to get involved – this unilateral decision of the Bord is wrong and an insult to decency.

  6. Why did the Board take this action? The museum is a public institution and as such should be transparent. I believe this is not a legal action and that attorneys should be hired to call the Board to task. I, for one , would be happy to donate to such an effort.
    Charles Riley has been a first rate director with energy, deep knowledge and wonderful vision.
    Diane Clemente

  7. Does anyone know that the museum is now turned into a catering hall? How sad is that! People are vaping in the first gallery and drinking alongside great Modigliani and Picasso. Oh I thought the first gallery has some of the board members’ collections. We were turned away in the lobby as some catering events were taking place. Museum closed to the public for the weekend wedding inside the galleries.


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