The Royal Ontario Museum has named noted Toronto arts maven Ann Webb as the managing director of ROM Contemporary Culture, until 2012 known as the Institute for Contemporary Culture.
Webb comes to the Toronto museum, marking the 100th anniversary of its opening this year, from the Canadian Art Foundation, where she was its executive director and publisher of Canadian Art magazine for 10 years. Along with her husband Marshall, Webb also has an international reputation as a significant collector of contemporary art.
Webb succeeds Kelvin Browne in the ROM post. Browne had been interim managing director since mid-2013, leaving last November to become executive director/CEO of Toronto’s Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art. Browne had been preceded by another interim manager, Britt Welter-Nolan, who, in turn, had taken over in 2012 from Francisco Alvarez, the last permanent director, named in 2008.
The Institute for Contemporary Culture was founded in 1990 with a $1-million endowment from the estate of photographer Roloff Beny (1924-1984). Besides Alvarez, previous permanent managing directors have included cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken, Kelvin Browne (from 2004 to 2007) and cultural historian/Ontario College of Art and Design University professor Michael Prokopow.
ROM chief executive officer and director Janet Carding in a statement Wednesday said: “Ann’s first priority will be to develop programing, in collaboration with local and international colleagues, to enhance ROM’s centennial year.”
The search for a permanent managing director of contemporary culture has clearly been a long, involved one, with ROM first advertising the job in late 2012. It’s not the first time Webb has been employed by the museum, however: 20 years ago she was hired by what was then the ROM Foundation (now ROM Governors) to start up its corporate-giving patron program. “It isn’t scary to come back,” she said in a brief interview. “It’s interesting, interesting to see what things have changed and what haven’t.”
Webb, who resigned her posts with the Canadian Art Foundation last October, believes she was hired, in large part, because of “my reach in terms of my knowledge … of contemporary issues in culture, a reach that goes far beyond the visual arts.” Moreover, 10 years with the Canadian Art Foundation have honed “my abilities in facilitation and collaboration.”
Late last year, too, Webb enrolled in a new leadership management program in visual arts organized by New York’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the University of Deusto Business School. “So things just kind of fell into place.”
Webb thinks the blurring and breaching of borders between what art galleries do and what world-historical museums such as the ROM have done will only intensify deeper into the 21st century. “Things are so multidisciplinary now, cross-disciplinary, inter-disciplinary. The artists are doing it and that’s where I get my inspiration. I follow artists, I follow writers, filmmakers, thinkers and all of what they’re about is crossing boundaries. I’m only following what I think is already happening out there.”