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The Road to Refining the Getty

The arts: Nine months on the job heading the J. Paul Getty Trust, Barry Munitz is restructuring its information and education arms.

October 10, 1998|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | TIMES ART WRITER

"I wasn't hired to preserve the status quo," Barry Munitz, then-chancellor of the California State University system, said more than a year ago when he was appointed to succeed Harold M. Williams, retiring president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Munitz took charge of the trust in January, a few weeks after the opening of the $1-billion Getty Center in Brentwood.

His job, Munitz said, would be to focus and refine the trust's mission and to "weave together the components of the center"--the Getty Museum, a grant program and institutes for art conservation, education, research and technological information--making sure that each had "the strongest possible leadership."

Nine months after arriving on the job, it appears that Munitz has lived up to his word. While the Getty Center continues to welcome throngs of visitors to its public programs and facilities, behind-the-scenes business is not exactly as usual. The trust is in the midst of an intensive internal review process, and several changes already have been made.

The Information Institute, set up to improve the technology of art historical research, is being phased out, although most of its programs will be integrated into other branches of the trust. The institute will cease to exist in June, and its director, Eleanor Fink, already has resigned.

The Information Institute is being dismantled "not because I think their work is inappropriate to us," Munitz said, "but because we discovered with an in-house review team that the bulk of their activities not only could fit elsewhere, but would more likely work well and be more cost-effective and higher quality."

Most of the Information Institute's staff is being redeployed. Responding to recent reports of imminent staff reductions, Stephen D. Rountree, executive vice president and CEO of the trust, said a few layoffs may occur in the next six to nine months, but the trust's staff is growing elsewhere, so the net effect is unlikely to be significant, he said. A spokeswoman for the trust said the number of people losing their jobs would be no more than 20, and would only apply to those with positions in the Information Institute. The Getty currently has a staff of about 1,400.

Intense Scrutiny of Education Institute

In addition, the Education Institute, which promotes art education in schools, is under intense scrutiny, and has also lost its director, Leilani Lattin Duke. Ted Mitchell, former dean of the Graduate School of Education at UCLA, is now interim director of the institute and vice president for education and special initiatives, a new position.

In other top-level staff changes, Russell Gould, Pete Wilson's former finance advisor, has succeeded retiring Joseph J. Kearns as senior vice president for finance and investments. And at the museum, director John Walsh has added vice president of the trust to his title, while Deborah Gribbon, formerly chief curator, has been promoted to the museum's deputy director in charge of daily operations.

Getty staff members say the ongoing review process is unsettling, but many claim that the changes and Munitz's energetic leadership are exhilarating.

"The sense of excitement and forward movement is really healthy for the Getty at a moment when we had just staggered across the finish line and were looking forward to resting for a year," Rountree said. "It was good, I think, that the board brought somebody in who said, 'No, we're not going to do that. We have hit that mark, but that's just the start.' "

Some of the Getty's moves have been reported as cutbacks made in response to the downturn in the stock market during the last two months, which caused approximately a $300-million drop in the trust's investment portfolio. But Getty officials say there is no relationship between the internal reorganization and fluctuations in the market value of its endowment, which currently stands at about $4.5 billion.

"We can't live that way here," Rountree said. "When the market soared and we gained $500 million, we didn't rush out and spend that." Similarly, when the market drops, the trust doesn't downsize its programs and dismiss staff, he said. "We plan our expenditures very conservatively on a long-term basis with expectations of volatility in the market."

Looking to Maximize the Trust's Resources

Munitz has consistently emphasized that the trust's wealth, while considerable, is finite. The trust's annual operating budget is $200 million, which is entirely funded by the return on the endowment. Since his arrival, he also has focused on ways to maximize the trust's resources and make the operation more efficient by eliminating duplication and establishing priorities.

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