New chair of the board for Philadelphia Museum of Art

Constance H. Williams (left) is stepping down from her position as chair of the Philadelphia Museum board of trustees, becoming a member emerita, and Leslie Anne Miller (right) will become chair of the board.

Leslie Anne Miller, 58, lawyer, collector, and trustee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, has been unanimously selected chair of the museum's board of trustees, succeeding Constance H. Williams, who has stepped down after two three-year terms, the museum announced following its October board meeting Thursday.

Miller has been involved on the boards of numerous nonprofit organizations, and museum officials said its own board selected her as chairwoman unanimously and with enthusiasm.

Williams, 72, who has guided the museum through adoption and implementation of a new strategic plan, renovation of the Rodin Museum, completion of the museum's large art-handling facility, inauguration of digital projects, and reinstallation of the South Asia galleries, will relinquish her post as a long-awaited $196 million interior reconstruction of the museum's neoclassical home is finally ramping up.

She will assume the title of chair emerita and remain active on the board of trustees. Previous board chairs Raymond G. Perelman and H. F. "Gerry" Lenfest have also been honored with the emeritus title.

"I've been chair for six years; that's enough," Williams said. "I'm very proud of what we've accomplished. We have a new strategic plan, which has gone beyond what we had hoped. We've increased audiences, increased visitation, we're seeing where growth can happen."

"I'm excited about Leslie," Williams continued. "She has great experience."

Miller, an attorney, led a staff of more than 450 as Pennsylvania's general counsel during the Rendell gubernatorial administration. She was the first woman elected president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, and she led the Kimmel Center of the Arts when it was first establishing itself.

Miller said taking the helm of the museum's board allowed her "to participate in shaping Philadelphia's future."

She characterized the museum as a "center for creativity today, an educational resource for children and our schools, a powerful economic driver," and an emblem of municipal pride.

Miller's husband, investment advisor Richard B. Worley, is chairman of the board of the Philadelphia Orchestra. With Miller's appointment, the city's two most visible cultural institutions will be steered by husband and wife.

It may make for interesting pillow talk.

"It was a question we thought about," Miller said following her selection. "In fact, as we were driving in, I said to Richard, 'You talked me into this.' And he reminded me that I talked him into the orchestra. I guess turnabout is fair play."

Miller, who has served on the boards of many institutions, including the Pennsylvania Ballet, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Medical College of Pennsylvania, and her alma mater, Mount Holyoke College, has been an art museum trustee since 2011.

Mary Patterson McPherson, chair of the museum committee that proposed Miller after sifting candidates for a year, said the new board chair possessed multiple talents her fellow board members found important and appealing.

"Leslie has many strings to her bow," McPherson said. "She has experience with government, interest in the arts, she's been on many boards, she's very philanthropic, she's a collector, she's written a book. . . . There are many things she'll bring to the museum at this critical time. We're starting a big project. She's the right woman at the right time."

Early in 2017, the museum will formally announce the onset of its "core project," a massive interior makeover. The auditorium will be removed from the center of the building, opening up the entire interior for the visitor and providing access to and from a grand, refurbished vaulted walkway running from the Kelly Drive side of the museum all the way to the Schuylkill River side.

The walkway has been closed to the public since the 1960s.

Based on the master plan developed by Frank Gehry and his firm in 2006, the core project will add 23,000 square feet of gallery space to the museum's ground floor - by moving different galleries and facilities around - and create what museum officials believe will be a more rational building for visitors to navigate.

The project is scheduled for completion in 2020.

When the formal core-project groundbreaking is held in January, officials said they will also announce a new fund-raising campaign to finish raising money for construction and to build on the institution's endowment, which now stands at more than $437 million - significantly less than that of comparable museums. (For example, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts has an endowment of over $600 million.)

"I want to get us through this transition, the first stage of this project, in sound shape," said Miller. "Sound financial shape. Sound shape from an audience-involvement perspective, and soundly on a continuing trajectory of engaging and diversifying audiences."

Fund-raising, she said, "is implicit" in the effort.

"We need to come through it . . . but our board and the public have to understand this is only the beginning."