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Museum Quality

Todd DeShields Smith has run museums across the United states and made Tampa’s an anchor in the city’s downtown waterfront district. Now, O.C.’s art world is waiting to see how far he can take OCMA.

OCMA’s new CEO Todd DeShields Smith at Tampa Museum of Art, where he spent the past six years

It would be hard to find an arts leader with a more diverse on-the-road résumé than Todd DeShields Smith, the incoming CEO and director of Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach. Just 48, he’s run venues in Ohio, North Dakota, both Carolinas and Tennessee. He’s spent the last six years in Tampa, Fla., where he guided the local museum through a metamorphosis into a waterfront center that helped rejuvenate the city’s downtown.

OCMA leaders say he’s the perfect executive to lead the museum’s upcoming transformation—in the works but with no completion date set—that includes moving to Segerstrom Center for the Arts. But when Smith arrives this month, don’t expect him to declare his own personal mission. First, he wants to explore the interests of the community and the staff.

“The role of the director is to bring all parts of the operation together, to make the museum a place that locals are proud of and visitors are attracted to,” he says. “It’s vital to get the pulse of the community before you make any grand pronouncements.”

Smith also wants to boost the public’s interest in the venue. And he’s got a good track record for accomplishing that. Local board members have praised Smith for bringing significant support increases to the Tampa Museum of Art—exhibit attendance shot up 87 percent and membership by 145 percent during his time there. It’s important, he says, to provide an atmosphere where new people not only visit, but return: “A museum is an experience where you come at your own time and at your own pace. You can control your own experience, which is quite different from, say, attending a performance. You can come with your friends or by yourself, but you come because the art transports you in different ways and with other ideas.”

Smith loved all the cities where he’s had a chance to lead art houses. “The people in all those communities had a deep appreciation for what museums do—that they are places of creativity,” he says. So, why one more move across country? The enthusiastic interest in good art from the search committee impressed him, he says, along with those plans to move to the Segerstrom arts campus: “There’s still some energy left in me to give to a big project like that.”

Smith's Hots
My Rimowa trolley, our corgie Byron’s big ears, Financial Times’ weekend edition, Monocle radio

Smith's Nots
Clutter, bad design, poor customer service, the phrase “no problem”