Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt Announces Departure of Director Paul Thompson and the Formation of a Search Committee

November 21, 2008
News Release
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Paul Warwick Thompson has resigned from Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum effective in August 2009. He has accepted the position of rector (president) of the Royal College of Art in London. Thompson joined Cooper-Hewitt in March 2001. A search committee for Thompson’s position will be formed next month.

“Over the past seven years, Paul Thompson has taken Cooper-Hewitt to new heights, through the huge increases in visitation, the dynamic national education programs, and the most extensive expansion that the museum has ever undertaken,” said Richard Kurin, Smithsonian Acting Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture. “We support Paul and thank him for his great service. We are sad to see him leave, but are grateful for his leadership which positions Cooper-Hewitt for a bright future.”

“Under Paul’s leadership, the museum has made great strides with respect to exhibition programming, collection access and educational outreach,” said board chairman Paul Herzan. “Moreover, he developed a solid strategic plan for Cooper-Hewitt, including an ambitious and much- needed expansion, which positions the museum for more positive growth.”

“An extremely dedicated, strong and inspiring leader, Paul infused new talent and energy into the museum and brought the institution wholly into the 21st century,” said trustee John Maeda. “As a trustee, it has been especially gratifying to work with Paul in positioning Cooper-Hewitt on a national stage and I look forward to continuing to build on the solid foundation he has laid for the museum.”

“It has been a real honor to serve as Cooper-Hewitt’s third director,” said Thompson. “I’m proud of the trustees and staff for all that they have accomplished during the past seven years with important acquisitions to the collection, record visitor numbers and education outreach that is now truly national in scope, and the forthcoming physical renovation of the museum campus is a milestone in Cooper-Hewitt’s 30-year history.”

The expansion, part of a $64 million capital campaign that was launched in 2006, will create 70 percent more exhibition gallery space, a new library and additional classroom space for the burgeoning master’s program, which has witnessed a 100 percent growth in enrollment since the appointment of Thompson in 2001. It will also include a $10 million goal for additional endowment needs. Phase one involves reprogramming and renovating the museum’s East 90th Street townhouses in order to free administrative space within the Carnegie Mansion and to create new gallery space. The renovation of the townhouses will begin in January 2009. The second phase involving mansion restoration and the creation of a new 7,000-square-foot gallery is more than 50-percent funded and will commence following the renovation of the townhouses.

The Royal College of Art, originally established as the Government School of Design in 1851, received its Royal Charter in 1967. It is the only wholly postgraduate design and art university in the world, with such illustrious alumni as the 19th-century design pioneer Christopher Dresser and artists Henry Moore, Lucien Freud, David Hockney and more recently, Tracy Emin and Jake and Dinos Chapman. Thompson replaces the current rector, Sir Christopher Frayling, who will retire after a 13-year tenure.

About Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution
Cooper-Hewitt is the only museum in the nation devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. The museum presents compelling perspectives on the impact of design on daily life through active educational programs, exhibitions and publications. Founded in 1897 by Amy, Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt—granddaughters of industrialist Peter Cooper—as part of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the museum has been a branch of the Smithsonian since 1967.

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