American Alliance of Museums President Ford W. Bell to Retire in May, 2015
Tenure Credited With Transforming America’s Largest Museum Service Organization
WASHINGTON, D.C. (August 19, 2014) − Ford W. Bell, who has led the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) through a re-branding that included a comprehensive overhaul of its programs and membership structure; a complete organizational re-structuring; and a new, intense focus on advocacy, will retire as AAM’s president on May 31, 2015.
Bell became AAM president in June 2007, following a career as a veterinarian and non-profit executive. Bell had also served as chair of the board of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and was a longtime board member of the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota. AAM board chair Kaywin Feldman will lead a search committee to find Bell’s successor.
“I can say unequivocally that this is the best job one could ever have,” Bell said. “It has been an honor to work with and for museum professionals throughout the country. Their passion and devotion to public service are what make museums so valued by the public, and such an integral part of our communities – as pillars in the educational infrastructure, as economic engines, and as community anchors and assets.”
Bell is credited with making the organization, founded in 1906, more outward looking, more dedicated to member service, and more focused on making the case for museums, at all levels of government. On the latter point, Bell was committed to uniting a fragmented museum field, seeing that as critical to ensuring that museums would be recognized as essential community institutions.
Toward that end, Bell worked with the board to lead AAM through a strategic planning process that resulted in the organization becoming the American Alliance of Museums in September 2012. For 106 years, it had been known as the American Association of Museums. This re-branding also established the group’s priorities, captured in the tagline adopted with the debut of the Alliance: Champion Museums, Nurture Excellence. In addition to advocacy, this commitment included development of programs, tools and services to support museum professionals in their jobs, a need identified in member research. A streamlined membership structure, following extensive member surveys, has led to a dramatic spike in membership, strengthening the financial stability of the organization. Since the launch of the Alliance in September 2012, AAM has seen a 48 percent increase in membership and now has the highest number of museum members in its history.
“One cannot overestimate the impact Ford Bell has had on this organization and on the museum field as a whole,” said Feldman, AAM board chair and Director & President of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. “His leadership has made AAM fully accessible, truly collaborative, innovative, proactive and of immensely greater value to all types and sizes of museums. Simply, AAM is a markedly stronger – and better -- organization than it was seven years ago. Moreover, the entire museum field is poised for an even more vigorous future, and that is due in part to Ford’s leadership.”
Among the milestone achievements of Bell’s tenure are the creation of Museums Advocacy Day, in which museum leaders from nearly all 50 states come to Capitol Hill to make the case for museums (the seventh Museums Advocacy Day will be February 23-24, 2015); the re-invention of museum accreditation, making this “Good Housekeeping Seal” for museums more streamlined, affordable, and of more value to institutions, with no dilution of ethical standards; and the launch of the Center for the Future of Museums, a part of AAM that has done groundbreaking work in identifying societal trends that will impact museums.
Bell also led an organizational re-structuring that has made AAM more efficient and productive, with dramatic increases in member services coinciding with a 27 percent reduction in staff.
In addition, Bell initiated a concerted international outreach for AAM, collaborating with museum organizations and individual institutions across the globe, particularly in China and Saudi Arabia.
“I think the museum field today is more aware of the importance of speaking with one voice, and of focusing on the commonalities that unite us across museum disciplines,” Bell said. “With the support and wisdom of the AAM board chairs I have been privileged to work with – Irene Hirano Inouye, then of the Japanese American National Museum, Carl Nold of Historic New England, Doug Myers of San Diego Zoo Global, Meme Omogbai of The Newark Museum and now Kaywin Feldman – AAM has helped foster a more united museum field. The vision we shared was simple: we are stronger together, in everything we do.”
AAM has also become more accessible and engaged with the field under Bell’s stewardship. During his tenure he has visited more than 450 museums in 46 states. Bell will maintain a robust schedule attending museum meetings across the country through May 2015.
Upon retirement, Bell and his wife Amy plan to move back to Minneapolis.
About the American Alliance of Museums
The American Alliance of Museums has been bringing museums together since 1906, helping to develop standards and best practices, gathering and sharing knowledge, and providing advocacy on issues of concern to the entire museum community. With more than 18,000 individual, 3,800 institutional and 300 corporate members, AAM is dedicated to ensuring that museums remain a vital part of the American landscape, connecting people with the greatest achievements of the human experience, past, present and future. For more information, visit www.aam-us.org.