After 25 Years, Albany Instiute Director Leaving

George R. Hearst III, chair of the Board of Trustees of the Albany Institute of History & Art, announced Tuesday that he has accepted the resignation of Christine M. Miles, who has served as the Institute’s executive director since 1986.

Citing a personal decision to explore new challenges, Miles tendered her resignation at an executive session of the board, held following its regular meeting on Monday, January 24.

“It is with mixed emotions that the board has accepted Chris Miles’ resignation as director of the Albany Institute,” Hearst said in making the announcement. “Chris’s contribution to the arts in the Capital District cannot be overstated. Not only has the Albany Institute enriched, educated, and stimulated our region under her expert direction, the arts community as a whole has benefited immeasurably from her skill, dedication, and experience.”

Throughout her tenure, Hearst noted, Miles has guided the Albany Institute, the oldest museum in New York State, through numerous advancements and challenges. Her long-range and strategic planning has brought the museum into its fourth century of service, Hearst said, and, especially in recent years, through some of the most difficult times the arts have ever faced.

“For almost 25 years, her vision has established the Albany Institute as one of New York’s most respected and distinguished institutions,” Hearst said. “We will continue to depend on Chris’s dynamic and insightful stewardship as we prepare to enter a new and exciting phase for the museum.”

Miles says her decision to resign as executive director of the Albany Institute was one of the most difficult she has made in her career.

”Obviously, this is not a decision that is made lightly,” she said. “The Albany Institute has been the center of my professional career for a major portion of my life. And, like so many other museums and arts institutions, it currently faces substantial financial challenges. However, I believe that the foundation we have worked to build here will help sustain this magnificent institution as it continues to meet these challenges. I look forward to assisting the board and staff in this time of transition.”

Prior to joining the Albany Institute in 1986, Miles was director of the Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York City, and also held positions as director, curator, researcher, and project director at such prestigious institutions as the Octagon Museum of the American Architectural Foundation in Washington D.C.- the South Street Seaport Museum in New York City- the Museum of the City of New York- and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

During Miles’s term as executive director, in 1994, the Institute commenced a major capital campaign to fund a $20 million renovation project that added new buildings and state-of-the-art collections storage facilities, and substantially enhanced the museum’s educational, administrative, and exhibition spaces. The Institute broke ground on the project in 1998 and was closed from 1999 to 2001, when it reopened its new spaces to the public during a Grand Opening Gala.

Miles was also instrumental in helping the Institute gain a number of major grants and awards, according to museum officials, including a $250,000 New Audiences for the Year 2000 Award from the New York State Council on the Arts- a $500,000 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Challenge, which enabled the museum to build its first true endowment- a $750,000 NEH Preservation and Access grant to aid in re-cataloging the collection, improving intellectual accessibility, and funding completion of the new collections facility- more than $750,000 raised over four years to fund the recent Hudson River Panorama exhibition, launched in conjunction with the statewide quadricentennial celebration in 2009- and, most recently, a $147,000 Museums for America Grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services to fund a website redevelopment project entitled, Digital Renaissance.

Under her direction, the museum has expanded its outreach to include classrooms and students in 26 states and 42 New York counties. Educational offerings have grown to include home school programs, weekend Art for All programs, Vacation Art Breaks, and summer programs. A wide range of lectures, gallery talks, demonstrations, and performances are held each year, as well as popular community-wide events such as the Institute’s Free Thanksgiving Weekend and annual Museum Gala.

Additional accomplishments include overseeing publication of the Institute’s first book documenting its collections, 200 Years of Collecting (Hudson Hills Press, 1998)- and the mounting of numerous nationally and internationally recognized exhibitions, including Thomas Cole: Drawn to Nature (1993)- Matters of Taste: Food and Drink in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art and Life (2002)- the 350th Anniversary Celebration of the Founding of Albany (2002)- Rodin: A Magnificent Obsession (2005)- Excavating Egypt (2006), and Hudson River Panorama: 400 Years of History, Art, and Culture (2009).

Miles has also served on the boards of numerous civic and arts groups, including WMHT Public Television- the Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau- the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce, the University at Albany Foundation- and the Albany Local Development Corporation. She is a past president of the Museum Association of New York State and the Gallery Association of New York State.

In 2008, the Albany Roundtable selected Miles to receive its prestigious Good Patroon Award for her commitment to making the museum a broadly accessible cultural and educational resource. Established in 1988, the annual award recognizes outstanding contributions to the community by institutions and individuals. In 1996, she received the Women of Excellence Award from the Albany-Colonie Chamber of Commerce.

“Christine is starting a new chapter in her life,” Hearst said. “We are proud and thankful for the outstanding work she has done to make the Albany Institute of History & Art such a vital and vibrant part of our community, and the board wishes her every success in her future endeavors.”

Hearst said that the Albany Institute Board of Trustees will establish a recruitment committee to begin a national search to replace Miles, who will remain as executive director to oversee the transition during the course of 2011.

Photo: Christine Miles, Executive Director of the Albany Institute of History & Art (R) in conversation at a New York Council for the Humanities Event in 2010. Courtesy NY Council for the Humanities.

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