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New Yorker Is Top Pick to Head Laguna Museum : Art: Naomi Vine is described as savvy in business matters. She has a doctorate in art history along with an MBA.

January 20, 1995|CATHY CURTIS and ZAN DUBIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

LAGUNA BEACH — A business-savvy administrator from New York City with a Ph.D. in art history is the leading candidate to be the next director of the Laguna Art Museum.

Sources report that the museum's executive committee on Thursday authorized contract negotiations with Naomi Vine for the position, which has been vacant for 10 months. If agreement is reached, the full museum board will vote on her appointment Tuesday. Vine is the only candidate--chosen from about a dozen serious contenders--to have reached the contract stage.

Vine, 45, has never been a museum director but has held key positions in various arts organizations for at least 15 years. Currently she is interim executive director of the eight-member Parsons Dance Company in New York.

A museum source would not discuss salary or other contractual provisions (former director Charles Desmarais was paid $88,000). If the negotiations fail or the board does not ratify Vine's appointment, the source said, a search committee will continue to work independently and will present new choices to the board next month.

Vine was in Orange County Thursday but could not be reached.

The Laguna Art Museum is one of Orange County's oldest and best-known cultural organizations. It serves about 200,000 visitors annually in two sites, specializing in historical and contemporary California art and with an annual budget last reported at $1.4 million. Overshadowed in recent years by the Newport Harbor Art Museum in Newport Beach, the 77-year-old museum acquired increased prestige under Desmarais, director from 1988 until March.

But Desmarais was dismissed by the board. No reason was given, but some board members later said he paid too much attention to organizing exhibitions and not enough to administrative duties.

A source at the museum said Thursday that the likelihood of increased federal cutbacks in arts funding and the current climate of belt-tightening among private donors requires a new model director: someone who combines a traditional art background with a master's degree in business and a solid understanding of fund raising.

The source said the museum wants someone who has experience working with a variety of institutions as an outside consultant, rather than someone whose fund-raising skills have been acquired solely through social contacts within his or her own institution.

Vine, who grew up in Seattle, holds a Ph.D. in art history from the University of Chicago and an MBA from Emory University in Atlanta. Before joining the Parsons Dance Company, she was chief development officer at the American Craft Museum and a senior staff member at C.W. Shaver and Co., management and fund-raising consultants for nonprofit organizations, also in New York.

While employed by C.W. Shaver, she worked on a $5-million capital campaign for the Currier Gallery of Art in Manchester, N.H., and on another major capital campaign for the Levine School of Music in Washington, D.C. She also prepared a study on museum conservation for the Luce Foundation.

Company president Carl Shaver speaks highly of Vine. "We do a lot of financial analysis and forecasting. She had very good financial skills," he said Thursday. "She is extremely bright and a hard worker. I'd be in the office at 6 or 7 p.m. and she'd (still) be there doing her job . . . She gets things done in a pleasant and effective way."

From 1988 to 1992, Vine was associate director for programs and curatorial affairs at the High Museum in Atlanta. Her earlier positions include director of collections and programs and chief curator at the Dayton Art Institute in Ohio (1986-88) and director of education at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (1980-86).

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