Leventhal Out as Museum Director

Dr. Richard M. Leventhal has resigned from his position as the Williams Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.  He will stay on at Penn as a tenured faculty member and a curator at the museum, in addition to spearheading a new initiative focusing on cultural-heritage and cultural property-preservation nationally and internationally.

The announcement of Leventhal’s “intention to step down from the directorship” effective November 1, 2006—less than three years after he left his job as president and CEO of the School of American Research in Santa Fe to assume the Penn Museum post in July 2004—came in a statement released in late October. The statement did not provide any explanation, but in a brief interview Leventhal cited different visions for the museum’s future held by himself and Penn Provost Ron Daniels.  While expressing satisfaction about the accomplishments of his time as director, he added that the museum needed “the full support of the administration and of the provost, and I hope the next director will have that support.”

Leventhal was more expansive about the new center he plans to form, which will focus on the world’s endangered cultural and material heritage. This is a longtime focus of the museum, he said, and one that “is very critical in today’s world.” One issue the center will examine is “who gets to decide” what merits preservation; another is the relationship between museums and host countries and other countries that possess coveted antiquities.

It will also look at “the definitions of cultural properties, the definition of cultural sites, sacred sites,” he said. “How do we deal with that question of what is a sacred site?  In the Western world, we tend to think of something being a sacred site that is built; in many other societies that’s not the case.  How do we bring those groups together?”

The center “will be activist, [one] that will be involved in questions that are on the front pages of the newspapers today,” Leventhal added, “and that will be very interesting in terms of charting the future for museums, for universities, and, in some sense, disciplines such as anthropology and others.”

Dr. Jeremy Sabloff C’64, who directed the museum from 1994 to 2004 [“Full Circle,” Mar/Apr 2004] and is now the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and curator of the museum’s American section, has agreed to step in as interim director while a search for a new director is conducted. —J.P.

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