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Originally published Friday, July 18, 2014 at 7:43 PM

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SAM hires new COO; looking for ‘blacker ink’ on budgets

Recently hired as the new chief operating officer, Richard Beckerman brings a work history of finding and maintaining revenue at museums.


Seattle Times arts writer

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The Seattle Art Museum has a new chief operating officer, Richard Beckerman. After serving as SAM’s interim COO since March, Beckerman replaces Robert Cundall, who moved to New York to become the Museum of Arts and Design’s new deputy director and COO.

Beckerman has lived in the Seattle area most of his adult life, including a 16-year stint at the Museum of Flight. During his last seven years there, he was vice president of operations and chief operating officer. Since 2007 he has headed Beckerman Consulting Services, advising museums and nonprofits on construction projects, board development, strategic planning and other issues.

To take the job at SAM, Beckerman, 58, is closing his consulting firm.

“The time spent as a museum consultant was invaluable,” he said in an interview Thursday. “It’s given me a lot of great of information about museums. Going into a variety of them really helps you understand how they’re similar and where the weak points can show up, and where the strong points show up as well.”

His interest in museums dates back to his childhood: “I was fortunate to have a family that loved the arts, and my mother was keen on having her five children go to museums frequently.”

How did airplanes fit into his art interests?

“I’ve loved aircraft since seeing pictures of them and making models as a boy,” he said. “To me they cover at least two fascinating worlds — technology and sculpture.”

Beckerman grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., and Ann Arbor, Mich. He got his bachelor’s degree from The Evergreen State College in Olympia in 1989 and his master’s from Antioch University Seattle in 2005, where his focus was on nonprofit governance and organizational development.

His mission at SAM, with its $23 million annual budget, will draw some inspiration from his tenure at the Museum of Flight, with its $16 million annual budget.

SAM’s director, Kimerly Rorschach, said of Beckerman: “He brings a lot of great skills to the position that will be very beneficial for us. ... He’s seen how things are done in other institutions, none of which, interestingly, were art museums.”

Most of them were institutions that relied heavily on earned income and thought about the tourist audience. “We need to do more of that,” Rorschach said.

At the Museum of Flight, Beckerman oversaw the museum’s cafe addition in 1994, ensuring that, with its catering capabilities, it would be a moneymaker.

At SAM, one of his goals will be “to improve on the budget and to get us into blacker ink.” His focus will be “the earned revenue side of the business ... everything from admission tickets to group sales to the gift shop to the rental gallery,” he said.

SAM, he acknowledged, is still in the last stages of recovery from the 2008 collapse of its business partner, Washington Mutual, and running “a slight deficit.”

“We’re through the worst parts of that,” he said, “and we’re very close to where we want to be.”

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com



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