St. Pete's Museum of Fine Arts executive director resigns

St. Petersburg's fine arts destination will search nationally for a new executive director.

Dr. Kent Lydecker, director of St. Petersburg's Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), has resigned for health reasons, following heart surgery earlier this year.

Lydecker, 66, has led the MFA for the past six years. Under his leadership, the MFA not only improved its physical appearance, its collection grew more varied. Lydecker also improved community outreach during his tenure and expanded educational programming, including making sure all Pinellas tweens visited the MFA as part of their middle school curriculum.

Lydecker, the fifth director in as many decades, also oversaw the successful 50 Artworks for 50 Years campaign, which raised more money for art acquisition than expected. For that campaign, the museum raised enough money to add over 140 new pieces to its permanent collection.

“It has been an extraordinary privilege for me to lead the MFA during this important period of its history,” Dr. Lydecker said in a press release. “I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such a talented staff and engaged Board, and I thank them for their support.”

Board Chair Mark T. Mahaffey lauded Lydecker's achievements.

"The Board and I thank Kent for his outstanding service and leadership, and we look forward to Kent’s continuing involvement in the MFA community in the years to come,” said Mahaffey.

On a wider scale, Lydecker's counterpart in Tampa expressed sadness and understanding at Lydecker's departure, but also hope that his community-centric inroads will continue.

"Kent is terrific and I'll miss him as a colleague," said Dr. Michael Tomor, executive director of the Tampa Museum of Art. "He had great common sensibilities to what I was interested in doing, which is community and partnership interests."

The two museums collaborated under Lydecker's watch, including the 2014 contemporary Chinese art exhibit, My Generation, a shared, curated experience between the MFA and the Tampa Museum of Art. The two museums also partner on Bridging the Bay, an annual program that alternates between both museums.

"I certainly was interested in continuing that, and I hope for the same [in the future],“ Tomor said.

The museum has named chief curator Dr. Jerry Smith as interim executive director. A committee, overseen by the museum's board of trustees, will hire a recruiting firm to do a national search for Lydecker's replacement. Lydecker said, via a press release, he will help "counsel" both Smith and the museum as they look for his replacement.

“We will work to ensure that we identify the best candidate to build on our considerable strengths and keep the MFA moving forward,” Mahaffey said.

“The Board is gratified to have someone of Jerry’s caliber to step into the role of interim executive director,” Mr. Mahaffey noted. “Jerry and the MFA staff are poised to continue the positive momentum the Museum has achieved in recent years under Kent’s leadership.”

Smith joined the MFA in October 2015 after over a decade at  the Phoenix Art Museum.

“We have the strong support of our members and community and an exciting calendar of future events and exhibitions,” he said in a press release Tuesday afternoon.