After six months of searching, the Telfair Museums have found a new director.
Lisa Grove, currently deputy director of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, begins Jan. 1. She replaces former Telfair director Steven High, who departed in May for the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Fla.
We spoke to Grove last week.
“I had never been to Savannah before,” the Kansas City native says of her recent interview experience. “It’s quite a beautiful place. What’s so interesting about Savannah is it’s got a lot of history, but it’s also got a really vibrant arts community that keeps it forward-looking.”
Grove says that with organizations like the Telfair and SCAD in town, “Savannah’s really moving fast into the future. The Jepson Center’s a great example of that. Getting the Jepson built really took a lot of effort by people willing to take a chance and move and think big.”
Saying Grove “is a rising star in the museum world, and I know the Telfair is in great hands with her,” Telfair Board Chairman Mills Fleming called attention to Grove’s combination of leadership skills and academic background.
“Lisa’s a high energy person who is also a proven leader. In addition, her stellar academic credentials speak for themselves,” he says.
Grove graduated from Stanford University and has a master’s in art history from the University of London. She also received an MBA from the University of London’s Imperial College Business School and was one of 40 Americans to be selected as a Marshall Scholar.
“The three properties of the Telfair really fit my background,” Grove says in explaining why she’s a good match for the position.
“The Telfair Academy has a collection spanning three centuries of art. I’ve specialized in 19th Century art history, so of course I’m particularly fascinated with the Owens–Thomas House. But I’ve also worked extensively in the contemporary art realm, which is of course where the Jepson fits in.”
Not only that, Grove is something of a numbers wonk, too — a helpful skill in today’s environment of constrained arts funding.
During her first year at Contemporary Art Museum, she found over half a million dollars in savings to eliminate a deficit and helped put the museum on a balanced budget with a surplus.
Grove says St. Louis and Savannah have a certain overlap.
“Both have similar challenges, and both are very proud of their past,” she says. “The fact that both have an active contemporary arts museum also shows that they’re moving forward quite nicely.”