‘Making it a 21st Century Place’: Ghislain d’Humières on Leading the Speed Art Museum

Ghislain d’Humières will take the reins as director and CEO of the Speed Art Museum on September 3. He comes to Louisville from the University of Oklahama, where he has been director of the Fred Jones Jr. Art Museum since 2007.

At a press conference today announcing his appointment, board of trustees chair Allan Latts called d’Humières “a super star” whom the search committee found to be a perfect fit to lead the museum into its next phase.

“He is an inspired and compassionate leader, a great manager, an exceptional fundraiser, he brings great experience in opening new museums,” said Latts. “He will challenge us in a way that will allow us to achieve objectives that we thought were not possible, and he will leverage his global experience and perspective to teach our school kids and, really, our whole community about the rest of the world through art.”

While at the Fred Jones Jr., d’Humières developed and managed a renovation and expansion that doubled the museum’s exhibition space. Previously, he oversaw a $320 million expansion at San Francisco’s DeYoung Museum of Fine Art, where he served as assistant director.  

The Speed recently broke ground on a major construction project that will include a new North and South Building, a 150-seat theater, an art park and public piazza, which will complete the Museum’s master plan in three years. The museum exceeded its $50 million capital campaign for the expansion in May. 

At the press conference, d’Humières noted, “how fortunate it is for a director like myself to arrive to build a building where the fundraising for the building is already there.”

“That being said, when you talk about challenging, well, it’s beautiful to build a building, but it would be wonderful, also, if the building could open with an endowment which is big enough to really support the building forever, or for as long as possible,” he added. “So the fundraising campaign may also be going a little into endowment, because that’s for the future.”

The Paris native has a background in 18th and 19th century European decorative arts, and worked for Sotheby’s and Christies auction houses before becoming assistant director of San Francisco’s DeYoung Museum of Fine Art in 2004. He spoke energetically about the opportunities to expand outreach throughout the community, emphasizing the opportunity to develop a diversified exhibition program – regional, national and international – to “[change] the perception of a beautiful museum, which has been there for close to 100 years, by making it a 21st century place.”  

“I would love to have international exhibitions because it’s also a way to bring to the community here works of art and culture from different countries, but also not forgetting, of course, where we are from – I just said ‘we’ so that’s where we are from, Kentucky – and also the U.S,” he said.  

But he also pointed out that the work begins now, not when the museum re-opens from its construction phase. The Speed has temporarily relocated to the NuLu neighborhood (822 E. Market St.) for the duration of the construction, which is due to be completed in winter 2015, with a grand re-opening planned for early 2016.

“We are on the ramp-up,” d’Humières said. “The day I signed, I’m already on the ramp-up mood because three years is around the corner in the museum world, believe me. We’re going to be busy.”

“The docents, the volunteers, the staff, the board, everybody will be the ambassador for the next two years within the community to make sure they know what’s going on, they’re excited about what’s happening, they develop membership and create a vibe about it,” he added.  

Also on d’Humières’ agenda is continuing to strengthen the relationship between the museum and the University of Louisville (“Geographically, they are together. It does make sense.”), which he says wHY Architecture’s building design, with the largely transparent North Building and outdoor sculpture garden, will help facilitate. He said he would have missed the atmosphere of a university museum upon leaving the Fred Jones Jr., but the Speed’s location at U of L is job’s “cherry on top of the cake.”  

“That vibrant attitude of the young generation is something which helps us to always stay connected with new technology and so on,” he said. “I was very excited to know I didn’t have to give up my connection with the university.”

D’Humières succeeds Charles Venable, who left the Speed last October to lead the Indianapolis Museum of Art. He is the fifth director of the museum, which was established in 1927. 

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