Wednesday, Mar 27 2013 04:37 PM

A new director, a new BMoA -- sort of

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    John Lofgren is the new executive director of the Bakersfield Museum of Art.

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By The Bakersfield Californian

After barely a month on the job, John Lofgren seems to have settled comfortably into his position as executive director of the Bakersfield Museum of Art.

Asked to describe his management style, he answered with a single word: "Open."

On other matters, he was more loquacious. In fact, Lofgren exudes energy and enthusiasm in everything he does.

Given his age -- 67 -- some might think that Lofgren would be thinking of retirement at this stage in his life, which is precisely what he was doing last year when he resigned from his previous job as director of a museum in Vero Beach, Fla.

He and his wife, Inger -- both are natives of Sweden -- even bought a house in Palm Springs. Now they are living in Bakersfield, albeit in a rented residence.

"I missed the excitement of building an art museum, of developing a permanent collection," he said. "So when this job came up, I went for it."

Purchasing art is a departure for the BMoA. For the past 15 or 20 years, the prevailing policy has been to show artwork loaned by other museums, due in part to the lack of storage space.

Now Lofgren and curator Vikki Cruz seem to be thinking along the same lines about acquiring art to be held by BMoA. He indicated that he and Cruz have some ideas about converting a portion of the space now being used mainly as a banquet facility into a storage room with the infrastructure suitable for the preservation of artworks.

"The permanent collection should be the foundation of our mission," Lofgren said. "That is very important, along with the financial well-being of the museum. And we need to generate catalogs for our exhibitions so for generations to come to know what we did, our history."

Lofgren was selected for the job from a field of about 40 candidates from across the United States, including in Bakersfield, said BMoA board president Susan Hersberger.

"John stood out in several respects," Hersberger wrote in an email. "During his career, he has been head of six different major cultural institutions. He has a passion for the arts that is contagious, and a track record in fundraising, membership growth, and collection development, all of which will serve our museum well.

"And finally, we were confident that John and his wife Inger would embrace Bakersfield, and that the community would embrace them in return."

Hersberger said a major initiative for Lofgren over the next several years will be the process of having the museum reaccredited.

Aside from those goals, Lofgren said his chief responsibility is to the BMoA membership.

"The backbone of any organization is the members," he said. "They own us; we have to be honest and accountable to our membership and not sugar-coat anything."

At the same time, the director, who previously has led museums in such diverse places as Santa Rosa in California's Sonoma County, the island of Maui and Minneapolis, is aware of what might be called the division of labor in a nonprofit organization.

In his view, certain changes need to be made in the way the BMoA has been run in terms of governance and day-to-day operations.

"We need to make sure the board knows its role is to make policy and the staff needs to know its role is operations," he said. "There has not been enough separation between the board and the staff."

Lofgren said he's sensitive to community needs and has been having "little lunches here and there" to get acquainted with various people who are leaders in their chosen field.

"I don't have a hidden agenda whatsoever," he said. "Life is too short to play games."

-- Camille Gavin, contributing columnist

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