New hand at The Leonardo helm | Buzz Blog

Friday, December 9, 2011

New hand at The Leonardo helm

Posted By on December 9, 2011, 5:11 PM

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The two-month-open art/science museum The Leonardo on Library Square has promoted Alexandra Hesse to chief executive, filling the hole left by museum guru Peter Giles as he returns to California. But what exactly is Hesse taking over?---

Hesse joined The Leonardo back in 2006 and weathered the storms that shook the museum as fundraising initiatives failed and management changes ultimately saw Giles brought in to present a new face to the Salt Lake City Council.

If anyone knows what the museum is, then I would argue it is Hesse. Insiders have long credited her with being the creative driving force behind the museum. The Leonardo's board chair, Will West, certainly seems to agree. "Alex has been managing the day-to-day creation of The Leonardo, and it is her vision that has created the museum," he stated in a Leonardo press release.

According to that same press release, Hesse "brought in and ran" the Body Worlds exhibition, arguably The Leonardo's high point thus far in terms of public interest and box-office receipts.

I raise the question of identity because it is one that has long puzzled Leo watchers, and its opening in October didn't necessarily dispel that confusion. Part interactive museum, part art-science exhibits and part children's art workshop -- with a photographic exhibition slapped alongside -- The Leo's true identity seems somehow out-of-focus, despite the game attempts of its staff to breathe life into its fledgling form.

Whether its difficult-to-define personality may have resulted in lackluster attendance also isn't clear. I attempted to elicit numbers for the first weeks from Giles, only to be told, effectively, to be grateful the museum's open. Questions to PR Lisa Davis e-mailed on Nov. 23 seeking clarification on reports that a marketing expert had been brought in to help battle that pesky identity question, along with my questions relating to the rumored departure of Hesse's second-in-command and other staff exits, did not receive a response.

And what is a Leo watcher to make off the recent decision to have the museum closed Tuesdays as well as Mondays? Does this reflect lack of interest, or a need to cut back on costs? I would have thought that with the holidays upon us and schools closing down for the yuletide season that now would be a time to expand its hours, not shrink them.

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