Amada Cruz has been chosen as Seattle Art Museums new director and CEO.
Amada Cruz has been chosen as Seattle Art Museum's new director and CEO. COURTESY OF SAM

This morning, the Seattle Art Museum announced that Amada Cruz will be the museum's new director and CEO, succeeding Kimerly Rorschach, who announced her plans to retire last fall.

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In an interview this morning, Cruz called the SAM's collection one of the best in the country. "The contemporary collection is fantastic, the modern is really strong, the historical collections are strong," she told me. "It's the place where you go to see all these different discipline areas and the examples are excellent and that's what you want from a museum."

Born in Havana, Cuba, Cruz has worked in the arts for over 30 years. In the SAM's press release announcing Cruz's hiring, she says "I am so excited about moving to one of the most progressive, innovative, and fastest-growing cities in the country. As an immigrant, Seattle’s embrace of diversity and commitment to inclusion certainly strikes a chord."

Cruz comes to Seattle from the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona, where she served as the director and CEO for the past four years. According to the Seattle Times, during her tenure at PAM she helped stabilize the museum's finances (paying off $5 million in debt), and managed an increase in attendance and membership, which rose by 20% in the last year.

Her time at PAM also introduced more Latinx and bilingual educational programming, and increased diversity across exhibitions and installations in an attempt to reflect the community of Phoenix more accurately.

Cruz also her taste of controversy, with some docents and volunteers criticizing the choices she made while heading PAM with the Phoenix New Times going as far as calling it a "nightmare." Cruz has a different take: "Change is very difficult for people," she told me. And I guess she's got the numbers to prove her detractors otherwise.

Charlie Wright, a Seattle Art Museum board member, told the Seattle Times that the Phoenix New Times story "gave the search committee some pause," but it did not deter them from hiring Cruz. “We called people, checked in with the board chair, did some due diligence. I would say she was brought on there to affect change, she did it and some people didn’t like it. I guess I’m comforted by the fact that as a leader she’s comfortable with change," Wright continued.

In any case, Cruz said it'll be hard to leave the community of Phoenix. "They've actually been incredibly supportive of everything at the museum," she said. "Attendance is up, there's a lot more diversity on the staff, the exhibitions also reflect what the city is right now."

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Cruz will be coming into the SAM at a rather prosperous time. The Asian Art Museum, which the SAM operates, is slated to open this fall after nearly two years of closure due to a $54 million expansion. She told me she's interested in exploring contemporary art at the Asian museum and how it connects with older work.

"We've done a little bit of that in the Phoenix Art Museum with making connections between the contemporary Asian artists and then allowing them to go into the collection and do their own exhibitions and add work—I think that will be really interesting."

As the director of the SAM, she'll also be responsible for the Olympic Sculpture Park down on the waterfront. Cruz will officially start in her role at the museum in September.