Joseph Rosa, from the University of Michigan Museum of Art, takes over as director of the Seattle museum on Oct. 1.
Almost one year ago, the director of the Frye Art Museum, Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, announced she was leaving. Finally, the Frye is announcing her successor: Joseph Rosa, who has been director of the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) since 2010. He starts Oct. 1.
Rosa, the Frye’s sixth director, described the museum as “a gem” that he’d gotten to know over years of visiting Seattle, where he has family.
When Rosa took the director job at UMMA, the museum was running at a deficit. “We needed to turn that around ASAP,” he said. Within a year, UMMA was in the black. “They thought it was going to take me three years to get it out of the red — I wish they’d told me that the first year!”
Rosa said he improved the museum’s budget without layoffs and “made sure the next round of projects on the table were appropriate — then you can fundraise to the objective. People give to interest, they don’t give to need.”
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Financial prowess is something the Frye was looking for in a new director. The online listing for the job notes that the museum’s annual budget of $4.5 million has “remained stable, yet there is a strong feeling that the Frye is under-resourced for an ambitious future to include physical expansion by 2025.” (The job listing for Rosa’s recently vacated position at UMMA lists its budget as $5.5 million.)
“Joe fit the brand-image of the museum and understood Seattle’s place in the community,” said Mike Doherty, a Frye trustee and chair of the search committee.
Rosa has curated over 50 exhibitions and is a scholar of architecture and architectural photography. (He has also been a juror for the James Beard awards. “I love food, but it wasn’t for the food,” he laughed. “It was for print design — menus, graphics, logos.”)
A few years ago, he worked with Birnie Danzker on an exhibition highlighting Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi and Chinese ink painter Qi Baishi, which involved collaboration with the Noguchi Museum in Japan and showed at the Frye and UMMA.
“He has a long history of curatorial experience,” Doherty said, adding that there was no single exhibition of Rosa’s that had set him ahead of the pack. “It’s not one exhibition, but his work on curating the entire museum,” he explained. “And his focus on scholarship.”
Seattle is a quickly evolving city but, Rosa said, “it is both global and local in a way other cities aren’t — and global-local issues help to tell the story of why art is vital.”