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Natural History Museum Names New Head

April 21, 1994|SANDRA HERNANDEZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ending an 11-month search for a new executive director, the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History announced Wednesday that James Lawrence Powell will take over leadership of the problem-plagued museum in July.

Powell, director at the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, the oldest science museum in the nation, will succeed Craig C. Blackas executive director of the county museum.

Black's leadership of the 80-year-old museum has been questioned in recent years, and he has come under fire for allegedly using county personnel to remodel his home.

In addition, the Los Angeles County auditor-controller's office audited the museum's operation last year, and in a report presented to the Board of Supervisors said it found that museum managers violated Civil Service rules during a round of layoffs and failed to maintain a complete inventory of the museum's collections.

Supporters of Black had pointed to the museum's shrinking budget as the source of problems and said his successor will inherit a facility whose reputation Black enhanced.

During Black's 12-year tenure as director, attendance at the museum rose by more than 20% to 850,000 annually.

Powell, a geochemist and former president of Reed College in Portland, Ore., is expected to make fund raising a priority.

"We have to have someone who can assist in raising funds and have sensitivity to the area," Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke said Wednesday. The county pays $14 million of the museum's estimated $19-million annual budget.

Burke said the county is discussing ways to increase private support for the museum, which has come to rely increasingly on private funding.

Black has said that private funding for the museum rose from $400,000 to more than $5 million annually during his tenure.

Powell is a nationally known scholar appointed to the National Science Board by President George Bush. Before he was at Reed College, Powell was the president of Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., from 1983 until 1988. Before that, he spent 22 years as a professor of geology at Oberlin College in Ohio.

In a statement issued by the museum, Powell said he was leaving Philadelphia because "Los Angeles and the Pacific Rim, in spite of short-term difficulties, is the place to be for the rest of this century and beyond."

Black leaves behind a $181,000-a-year job to move to Albuquerque, N.M., where he expects to teach and do research.

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