Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Director, New York, NY


Cooper Hewitt educates, inspires, and empowers people through design.


Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum advances public understanding of and enthusiasm for design across 24 centuries. Housed in the historic Fifth Avenue Andrew Carnegie Mansion and adjacent town houses, Cooper Hewitt fulfills its mission through programming, acquisitions, collections, research, conservation, and national education programs. The Museum is a major resource serving a broad swath of professionals, scholars, educators, and students, and seeks to inspire us all with the ingenuity of design thinking and its influence and potential application in our individual lives and society.

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum ("Cooper Hewitt" or "CHSDM") is one of the 19 museums and numerous research centers and educational programs that comprise the nation's Smithsonian Institution, with all the advantages it bestows. As the only museum in the United States dedicated exclusively to historical and contemporary design, Cooper Hewitt and its collection play a pivotal role in fostering scholarship and advancing discourse that illuminates the importance of design both historically and in the present day. The Museum acquires, conserves, studies, and presents a unique collection of more than 200,000 contemporary and historical objects including textiles, wallpaper, technology, metalwork, furniture, ceramics, glass, architectural ornaments, woodwork, drawings, and paintings and has expanded to document and interpret design process and innovation. Cooper Hewitt sponsors the National Design Awards, and hosts the Parsons, The New School for Design master's program in the history of decorative arts and design. Its extraordinary, specialized library of more than 80,000 volumes is a branch of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

The Smithsonian, a unique public trust establishment, is governed by a Board of Regents which appoints the Secretary. The Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution appoints the directors of all museums, including the Cooper Hewitt Director, who serves at their pleasure. The Director of Cooper Hewitt reports to the Under Secretary for Museums and Culture who oversees the operations of the various museums and Smithsonian organizations. The Smithsonian facilitates the work of the Museum, and provides program, administrative, and budgetary aid and oversight, as well building and protection services.

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (www.cooperhewitt.org) has an active and engaged Board of Trustees composed of between 16 to 20 private citizens and 106 full- and part-time staff. The COVID-reduced annual operating budget is $16 million, which does not include the mentioned central Smithsonian-provided services such as guards, human resources, capital/facilities staff, etc., that would mean a significantly larger annual budget, if incorporated.


The Director will be an inspiring yet grounded leader who will work with the Cooper Hewitt Trustees, team, and design community to craft a vision for its role as the country's national design museum, strengthen its engagement with stakeholders, and build and lead an outstanding team.

Assuming this position at a time of increased interest in, and focus on, the role of design in responding to and addressing the issues of our time, the Director will build on the Museum's resources and strengths to ensure its relevance and expand its reach. The Director will ensure that Cooper Hewitt and its programs, team, and Board reflect the diversity of our country, its ideas, and that all activities are assessed through a lens of accountability, equity, and accessibility.

With the support of, and in partnership with, the Board of Trustees, the Director will be an enthusiastic and active fundraiser and ambassador for the Museum, expanding its base of contributed support. Leading a dedicated professional team, the Director is responsible for the overall financial and operational health of Cooper Hewitt, aligning ambition with fiscal reality.

The Director will benefit from establishing strong and collaborative relationships across the Smithsonian Institution. The Director serves as principal advisor to the Secretary of the Smithsonian through the Under Secretary on all matters relating to the Museum and will coordinate the Museum's and Board's activities with those of the Smithsonian Institution, sister organizations, and the Board of Regents.

The Director will have the following key responsibilities:

  • Vision and Program: Develop, with team and Board, a bold and exciting vision for Cooper Hewitt that leverages the historical strengths of the Museum's collection to champion design as a force to address contemporary needs and issues; foster programmatic innovation that distinguishes the Museum in a crowded arena and expands attendance and engagement of the Museum's constituents; lead the build-out of digital and data-driven capability to enhance visitor and member engagement; ensure that programs advance both exhibition and education objectives.

  • Team: Motivate, recognize, support, and supervise a committed team, advancing morale and providing clear direction; foster a transparent, collaborative culture that models equity, inclusion, and diversity, including open communication along with professional excellence and best practices; assess the organizational structure and revise as needed; delegate appropriate authority and hold individuals accountable for specific and collective performance.

  • Finance: Ensure the Museum's team and programming operate within the allocated financial resources; oversee the federal budget and trust funds to assure timely submissions of budget information and material, the proper expenditure of funds according to applicable federal laws and Smithsonian guidelines, and the proper accounting processes and systems of control; testify at Congressional hearings on budget requests and other matters as required.

  • Board Development: Collaborate with team and volunteer leadership to cultivate, solicit, and steward new and existing members of the Board, clearly communicating expectations and opportunities and identifying new ways to engage Trustees as ambassadors and deepen their support for and connection to the Museum.

  • Fundraising: Provide a strategic vision to support a multifaceted fundraising operation designed to significantly diversify and expand private support; partner with the Chief Advancement Officer to bolster revenue streams including individual, corporate, and foundation support; represent the Museum in conversations with potential partners and funders championing the Museum's programmatic diversity, leadership, and impact; work with the Board to build the foundation for long-term financial health by developing a committed fundraising leadership base and broadening the donor constituency; support a robust advancement department and activities with a clear understanding of the drivers of contributed revenue; work collaboratively with the Smithsonian Office of Development and other offices to participate in fundraising events and activities, as appropriate.

  • Collection: Understand and appreciate the collection and evaluate and revise, as necessary, its policies; serve as a principal advisor to the Secretary through the Under Secretary on the acquisition of major new decorative art and design collections.

  • Connectivity and Community: Build and strengthen relationships with the design community; pursue a strategy to connect the Museum and its programs to the local community though proactive engagement and relevance; maximize resources and impact by engaging in cooperative programming and joint ventures with other partners and finding ways to connect with a wide range of constituencies; strengthen the Museum's institutional identity, including clear and proactive messaging and branding.

  • Cross-Smithsonian: Embrace and capitalize on the intellectual assets and operational heft of the Smithsonian; work closely and constructively with its other museums and offices; review and recommend appropriate action on applications or proposals for federal or nonfederal grants or contracts to finance research, publications, exhibitions, and other scholarly projects; attend high-level Smithsonian policy meetings and conferences, making significant contributions to the development of Smithsonian policy and priorities; participate in budget and management meetings and on various committees as appropriate.


Cooper Hewitt seeks a Director who is:

  • A visionary with deep relationships across the design community who has the ability and desire to connect and inspire others;
  • A tested manager with proven ability to focus, prioritize, and delegate, with a track record of modeling integrity; experience in a related organization or institution known for quality, innovation, and excellence;
  • A culture builder who creates a collaborative, creative, transparent, and agile environment in which team and Board thrive;
  • A successful and enthusiastic fundraiser who has the ability to build and steward relationships in New York City, and beyond;
  • A compelling and effective communicator capable of persuasively positioning today's art and design opportunities and reach to a broader public;
  • Able to negotiate graciously yet remain clear, decisive, proactive, and fair; able to understand the subtleties of motivating, directing, and working with committed and sometimes strong personalities, yet also hold their own;
  • Adept at harnessing existing and new technology and methods to support operations, exhibitions, programs, and designers;
  • Prepared to be flexible in response to the uncertainty that the events of 2020 have imposed, recognizing that for the short term, any vision for the future must be seen through the lens of COVID-19 and its demands, and for the long term; a dedication to the tenets of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access are essential.

Smithsonian Institution does not discriminate in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy and gender identity), national origin, political affiliation, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, genetic information, age, membership in an employee organization, retaliation, parental status, military service, or other non-merit factor.

Applications, including cover letters and resumes, and nominations should be sent to the attention of Sarah James and Becky Klein at CooperHewitt@PhillipsOppenheim.com.