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Ringling executive director steps down

SARASOTA — After almost a decade of growing the John and Mable Ringling Museum brand, executive director John Wetenhall resigned Tuesday to pursue other interests.

A national search will be held to fill Wetenhall’s positioN, said Sally McRorie, dean of the Florida State University College of Visual Arts, Theatre and Dance. The university overseas operations at the museum.

Until then, Ringling board member Marshall Rousseau, a former executive director of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, will serve as interim director.

The rest of the staff remains in place, McRoire said. She would not elaborate on Wetenhall’s next career goal.

Wetenhall stepped into the executive director role in 2001, a year after FSU took over the former state-run complex. While there, he changed the face of one of the largest museum complexes in the nation.

“We saw a time of tremendous growth and importance in the museum — nationally and internationally,” McRorie said. “We appreciate all the hard work that he’s done.”

Wetenhall has been credited with a successful building program on the museum campus that led to the construction of the Tibbals Learning Center; the John M. McKay Visitors Pavilion, which houses the Historic Asolo Theatre; the Ulla R. and Arthur F. Searing Wing of the museum galleries; and the Education/Conservation Building. Several existing buildings, including Ca d’Zan mansion, underwent extensive renovations.

The museum also gained a $55 million endowment, earned grants and gifts of $150 million, expanded its permanent collection and won several Davis Productivity Awards for efficient management and effective budget savings.

Wetenhall said in a press release that it has been a privilege leading Ringling through a “remarkable transformation during which the museum doubled in size and re-established its rightful place in the national and international museum world. This is a credit to a wonderful staff, a remarkable board, the Florida State University and a supportive community. Having achieved so much together, it is now time for me to move on to pursue other challenges.”

The former executive director could not be reached for further comment.

Though there has been no timeline set yet to fill the executive director’s position, Rousseau and Wetenhall’s successor will need to lead the museum through difficult budget times. State budget struggles have led FSU to cut $56.6 million, with Ringling trimming $1.7 million from its budget to make up for the shortfall, leading to cuts in staffing, programs and other museum resources. In June, the museum was also asked by FSU to be financially self-sufficient within three years.

McRorie said Ringling’s future will continue to be a top priority for FSU during the change of leadership.