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Southwest Museum Trustees Ask Interim Director to Stay Another Year

June 02, 1988|ESTHER SCHRADER | Times Staff Writer

Unsuccessful in a 6-month search for a permanent director, trustees of the Southwest Museum have asked the interim director to stay on for another year and possibly indefinitely.

Board of Trustees President James Dickason confirmed Tuesday that board members have also discussed hiring acting director Stirling Huntley permanently to direct the museum's finances. They also have considered creating a position for an anthropologist or archeologist to oversee the museum's collections, Dickason said.

The 80-year-old institution specializes in Indian artifacts.

The board's search for a permanent museum director has been hampered both by the museum's uncertain financial future and the difficulty of finding a candidate who combines academic, administrative and fund-raising skills, officials said. About 55 applicants have been considered for the position.

Huntley stepped in as interim director in September after former director Patrick Houlihan resigned to protest negotiations to merge the Highland Park institution with the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. Huntley said he took the post expecting only to stay through July.

But now the 63-year old former Caltech director of admissions said that he will keep his position at the museum until May, 1989, and that he would not mind staying on as director for up to five more years.

"It is conceivable that sometime before then, we would come up with a person to come in as director, or it is conceivable that we might organize ourselves in such a way that I would stay on for another few years after that," Huntley said.

"I'm having new calling cards printed and now I'm going to call myself director," Huntley said. "I'm going to be around for a while, and I'm just having a ball."

Dickason confirmed that the board has discussed retaining Huntley, but declined further comment, saying that no decision has been made.

Huntley is a collector of Indian artifacts and a longtime friend of Dickason and other board members. But he does not have the academic or curatorial skills that board members said they seek.

"We're going to change strategies," Dickason said. "What we're trying to do now is build the job around the person since we haven't had much luck finding the exact person we want."

The museum was significantly refurbished under Houlihan's tenure, which began in 1981. But last year, the costs of modernization became too great, and the museum incurred a $200,000 deficit on a budget of about $900,000. The museum has a $4-million endowment.

Since March, 1987, museum officials have eliminated positions and pared services in order to operate within budget. And museum membership increased from 3,000 at the end of last year to 4,500 after a drive funded by a grant from the Irvine Foundation. But Huntley said the endowment must be increased to continue to operate.

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