An abrupt change in the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art’s personnel left the SUNY New Paltz community stunned when university provost, Lorin Basen Arnold, announced on Feb. 15 that Sara Pasti, the Neil C. Trager director of the museum, will be stepping down from her position in a phased-out retirement.
Arnold sent out an email to faculty and staff informing them of Pasti’s reassignment, but not to the members of the museum’s Advisory board.
“The fact that the museum advisory board was not consulted or informed prior to the action, and that it was sent out to the college community in a mass e-mail and not to the advisory board ahead of time, was very disturbing,” said board chair Ward Mintz in an e-mailed statement.
Pasti had been the director of the museum for a decade. Starting in April, she will be working part-time in charge of the museum’s external relations and development. Wayne Lempka, the museum’s manager of art collections, is assuming the position of interim director.
Pasti is amicable to her new role, noting that her reduction in hours and pending retirement “allows me to slow down from the day-to-day rigor of administering the museum and allows me to use more of my expertise to support it.”
“I am very excited about what lies ahead for me and I’m equally excited to see what the museum will do in the future,” Pasti said.
The college plans to have a new director in place by the summer of 2020. “Sara [Pasti] will provide information and consult with Wayne during this transition period and assist the campus as we move toward hiring the museum’s next director,” said SUNY New Paltz spokesperson Melissa Kaczmarek.
Since Feb. 15, President Donald Christian and Arnold have had two meetings with the museum’s advisory board to address the miscommunication.
Board member Arthur Anderson reported that the first meeting acted as a “venting” session by board members. The second meeting was a more constructive discussion focusing on “the direction we want the museum to take and defining the roles and responsibility of the advisory board,” Anderson said to Hudson Valley One.
The advisory board brings in significant funds to the college. According to Mintz, in the last 20 years it has raised a third of the donations to the SUNY-New Paltz Foundation, the college’s main vehicle for attracting private money. In 2018 alone, the board raised more than $112,000.
The advisory board is an external advisory and support group that provides useful expertise and fresh perspective to the museum, assisting in audience building, public relations, marketing, fundraising and programming.
Ironically, one of the board’s main endeavors, according to the Dorsky’s website, is to promote a collaborative relationship between the museum, the college and other museum stakeholders.
Based on the two meetings and the advisory board’s response to the university, it appears that the issue isn’t merely the university provost failing to notify the advisory board on Pasti’s change in position. This incident revealed a deeper concern within the advisory board—that the roles and responsibilities of the advisory board aren’t clearly defined or known, and that the poor communication between the board and the university provost and president can ultimately be detrimental to the museum’s excellence.
In the past, Pasti dealt directly with the administration. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that the museum began reporting to the provost, according to Neil Trager, the museum’s founder and first director. Arnold is a relatively new provost—coming to the position in July of 2016—and Anderson added that the board “hadn’t seen much of her except at openings. Now we have a direct line of communication.”
Trager admitted that he was “shaken a little bit” when he received news of Pasti’s resignation from museum director. “[It] seems a little strange, since there was no hint Hastend was going to retire,” Trager said.
Unfortunately, Basen and Anderson were not able to be reached in time for comment.
The ambiguity behind Pasti’s abrupt resignation from director leaves many unanswered questions, like why was there not a succession plan in place, and why did she suddenly decide to reduce her hours at the Dorsky.
Currently the advisory board is waiting on suggestions from the provost on how to move forward from here. “We will be involved in that process [defining the role of the new director and curator], rather than have it be primarily an academic decision,” Anderson said in a Hudson Valley One article. “It’s an opportunity to reset how we want the museum to move forward. Now we’re beginning the third chapter.”
Board members claim that after their meetings with Christian and Basen, there is now a better understanding about the crucial role played by the advisory board in the museum’s functioning, along with a more direct line of communication between the board and the university.