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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

CMA Director David Franklin Resigns for "Personal Reasons," Speculation Abounds

Posted By on Tue, Oct 22, 2013 at 9:07 PM

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With yesterday's announcement that David Franklin, CMA director for the past three years, is resigning for personal reasons (effective immediately), the museum will have seen the arrival and departure of four directors since 2000.

Franklin's resignation, according to a prepared statement, was the result of some personal reflection in which Franklin concluded he needed more time for "research and writing." The PD's Steven Litt reported that Franklin will stay on in a consulting role as interim director Fred Bidwell (of Transformer Station fame) takes the reins.

But Litt's story failed to address what most commenters (many of those comments have now been deleted from the Cleveland.com story, incidentally) and Cleveland art enthusiasts saw as the real story in Franklin's resignation: the alleged affair he had with a CMA staffer (according to several sources close to the organization and the woman), her suicide five months ago, and the collusion of a wealthy board which swept that story under the rug. Scene talked to more than a couple people familiar with what museum employees and trustees knew, and heard from more throughout the day. Many were dismayed at the museum's statements and the PD's coverage.

"Lots of people know a lot - it's been the best kept secret in Cleveland for 5 months," one source tells Scene. "Anyone who has any association to CMA or [the young lady] has been waiting on this day for over 5 months."

When the museum became aware is not clear, nor when any decision was made about Franklin's future, which now includes a consulting gig with CMA to ensure a "proper transition."

Franklin's track record was suspect to begin with. The world-renowned historian of Italian Renaissance Art "mysteriously disappeared" from his post as deputy director and chief curator of the National Gallery of Canada. That departure occurred during preparations for two major exhibitions and left the museum in a state of turmoil.

Two years later, the CMA board tapped Franklin to take over the directorship in Cleveland. Here's the PD editorial welcoming him on Sep. 6, 2010:

David Franklin, former deputy director and chief curator of the National Gallery of Canada, is sounding all of the right notes of enthusiasm, commitment and scholarship as incoming director of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

He relishes the internationally renowned art museum's strengths — yet is rightly eager to have it do more to plan major exhibitions, tapping into its great collections. That's encouraging.

And the respected, hockey-loving Montreal native and his family want to stay in Cleveland for a long, long time. The museum needs that kind of stability. Roll out the welcome mat.

Franklin, 49, an expert in Renaissance art, has quite a to-do list. Taking the helm during a $350 million expansion and renovation, he'll have to work hard to raise $130 million to pay off the museum's construction bonds and to manage a construction project that won't end until 2013.

The museum will celebrate its centennial in 2016.

But if Franklin can communicate his excitement about the museum's rich, diverse collection to patrons and visitors, he should enjoy a long and gratifying career in Cleveland. And Cleveland should enjoy having him.

Roll out the welcome mat indeed. Looks like the "long and gratifying career" will be cut short once again.

Not surprising that the PD would trumpet the sterling qualities while neglecting to mention the troubling resume of Franklin, a man whom the paper's publisher Terry Egger, a CMA trustee, helped hire. Not surprising also that when Franklin announced his sudden resignation, the board members summarily communicated their shock and distress while failing to elaborate on the "personal reasons" Franklin offered for his departure.

There's certainly more to the story based on what we've heard today.

Know more? Get in touch at sallard@clevescene.com.

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