DIA’s director search yields candidate in museum’s backyard

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published September 30, 2015

 Salort-Pons and his wife, Alexandra, will soon be moving to Detroit with their two children.

Salort-Pons and his wife, Alexandra, will soon be moving to Detroit with their two children.

Photo provided by the Detroit Institute of Arts

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DETROIT — The Detroit Institute of Arts has a new director, but he’s no stranger to the museum or its art collection.


Salvador Salort-Pons, the museum’s executive director of collection strategies and information, was announced as the DIA’s new director, president and CEO during a press conference Sept. 16 at the DIA. Salort-Pons will take over the position previously occupied by Graham Beal, who retired June 30. Salort-Pons will officially assume his new title Oct. 15, a museum spokesperson said. Salort-Pons has been with the DIA for the last seven years.


The DIA said it will not make Salort-Pons’ salary public until Oct. 15. The DIA said the salary is in line with the art services agreement with Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.


DIA board Chair Gene Gargaro, of Grosse Pointe Shores, who chaired the search committee, said the fact that the museum was able to find a person with the knowledge and expertise of Salort-Pons among its own staff says a lot about the caliber of the DIA itself. He said the search committee voted unanimously in favor of recommending the appointment of Salort-Pons to director.


“I was very, very pleased that we had a unanimous vote, as well, of the board of directors” in favor of Salort-Pons, Gargaro said.


He said they conducted an “international search” for a new director, and it took nine months to evaluate the candidates.


“The response (to the museum’s directorship opening) was very gratifying,” he said. “It was a very competitive field. It was not an easy task.”


Salort-Pons, 45, a native of Madrid, has written two books and numerous scientific articles for British, Italian and Spanish journals and exhibition catalogues, and has a master’s degree in geography and history from the University of Madrid, a master’s of business administration from the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, and a doctorate in art history from the University of Bologna. Prior to joining the DIA, he was a senior curator at SMU’s Meadows Museum, an assistant professor at the University of Madrid and an exhibition curator at the Memmo Foundation/Palazzo Ruspoli in Rome.


“The DIA is one of the finest museums in the world,” Salort-Pons said. “The reason I came to the DIA is because of its collection. As a European, I always wanted to work in a museum that has a great history and a great collection.”


During his DIA career, Salort-Pons organized the shows “Fakes, Forgeries and Mysteries” and “Five Spanish Masterpieces,” and he was the in-house curator for “Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus.”


Salort-Pons said that with successful passage of a millage in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties to support the DIA, along with successful completion of Detroit’s bankruptcy proceedings, they are now at a point to “bring the museum to the next level of success.” He said he wants to build on the visitor-centered approach that Beal pioneered during his DIA tenure.


Gargaro said Salort-Pons is an effective fundraiser, as well as a gifted curator, and he brings strong people skills to his new role. Building the museum’s endowment is expected to be crucial in the coming years.


“He’s demonstrated a capability for engaging patrons of the museum and for outreach to prospective patrons,” Gargaro said.


Salort-Pons said he hopes to make the museum “more and more diversified,” and to increase outreach in Michigan and especially in the tri-county area.


“We’re going to be out there telling our stories and telling all Michiganians to come to Detroit and come to the DIA. … I am planning to be out there myself a lot … and talking to the communities in person,” he said.


Exhibitions with relevance to local communities and subject matter of local interest will be emphasized as well, he said.


As someone who began his art career as a scholar, Salort-Pons said he “always wanted to be close to the object.”


“The object is the first document,” he said of the artwork. “You can use it to inspire people.”


Salort-Pons would like to see the museum attract not only art students, but also scientists, since science is a vital part of art conservation.


“I think science and art go together,” he said.


He said he’d like to draw more visitors from all over Michigan, as well as from all over the world, and continue to build partnerships with art institutions across the globe.


“We’re blessed with a magnificent collection,” Salort-Pons said. “We have shared it in the past (by lending pieces to other museums), and we’re going to continue to do that as a way to build relationships.”


Other museums, in turn, have lent some of their masterpieces to the DIA for special exhibitions.


Salort-Pons, who has worked and lived around the world, can be an international ambassador of sorts for the museum. Besides English and Spanish, Salort-Pons speaks Italian, French and “a little” German, he said.


He and his wife, Alexandra, currently live in Bloomfield Hills with their two children, Piper and Tucker, but Salort-Pons said he and his family will be moving to Detroit as soon as they can find and purchase a new home in the city.

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