Telfair Museums

Director and Chief Executive Officer, Savannah, GA


The Telfair Museum of Art (Telfair Museums) offers compelling expressions of visual culture embracing three unique buildings and three distinct collections that bridge three centuries of art and architecture. The museum develops awareness, understanding, and appreciation of the arts and serves as a dynamic cultural center connecting people of all ages and backgrounds.

Telfair Museums is the oldest public art museum in the South. The legacy of one visionary Savannahian, it was founded in 1883 through the bequest of prominent local philanthropist Mary Telfair, who left her home and its furnishings to the Georgia Historical Society to be opened as a museum. Today, Telfair Museums consists of three unique buildings: the Telfair Academy and the Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters, two National Historic Landmark sites built in the early 19th century, and the contemporary Jepson Center.

Each of the museum's three buildings represents an innovative expression of its time and houses a collection corresponding to the era in which it was built. Designed in the Regency style by English architect William Jay, the Telfair Academy houses 19th- and 20th-century American and European art, including paintings, works on paper, sculpture, and decorative arts. Highlights include fine examples of American Impressionism and Ashcan School Realism, with major paintings by Childe Hassam, Frederick Frieseke, Gari Melchers, Robert Henri, George Bellows, and George Luks. The Telfair Academy is also home to Sylvia Shaw Judson's iconic Bird Girl statue, made famous in the Jack Leigh photograph on the dust jacket of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

The Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters, also designed by William Jay (though notably different in style), is considered one of the finest examples of English Regency architecture in the country.In addition to the historic house museum and decorative art ranging from the late 18th to the early 19th century, the site includes rare intact urban slave quarters and a lovely parterre garden. The site underwent an award-winning reinterpretation in 2018, and its narrative now explores how the most powerful and least powerful people in Savannah lived together in the 1820s to 1830s, providing audiences with a broader understanding of how slavery impacted urban life in and beyond the home, and how it affected young and old, black and white, enslaved and free.

Rounding out Telfair's trio of landmark buildings, the Jepson Center, designed by the internationally acclaimed architect Moshe Safdie, is devoted to temporary exhibitions and the art of today. The Jepson Center is home to Telfair's Kirk Varnedoe Collection, a cornerstone of the museum's contemporary holdings. Assembled in honor of the late Savannah native, scholar, and MoMA curator Kirk Varnedoe, the collection features works on paper by some of the most pivotal artists of the past 50 years, including Jasper Johns, Chuck Close, Roy Lichtenstein, Jeff Koons, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, and Richard Avedon. The museum's diverse contemporary collection also features important works by Carrie Mae Weems, Helen Levitt, Sam Gilliam, James Brooks, and many notable Georgia artists. Telfair Museums' permanent collection of paintings, works on paper, photography, sculpture, and decorative arts contains over 4,500 objects from America, Europe, and Asia, dating primarily from the 18th to 20th centuries. The collection also includes several works by European expatriate Julian Story. His monumental painting Black Prince at Cr cy, which depicts a pivotal 14th-century battle, is a favorite with Telfair visitors. Telfair also boasts the largest public collection of visual art by Lebanese writer Kahlil Gibran, best known as the author of The Prophet, in the United States. The museum has over 80 artworks, including both paintings and drawings, by the popular literary figure.

Telfair provides a range of educational initiatives, including youth and family programming, school tour programs, preplanned field trips for Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools fourth and eighth graders, youth classes, and summer camps. Telfair Family Days take place six times each year. Events include demonstrations and performances by noted artists, musicians, storytellers, and hands-on artmaking stations for children and families. Art Start Thursdays, a fee-based class for children ages three to five and parents or caregivers, occurs the third Thursday of each month.

Telfair offers adults a variety of classes and workshops, ranging from drawing and painting classes with established local artists to workshops related to current exhibitions and exhibition opening lectures. The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Lecture presents outstanding scholars on African American art and contemporary African American artists. The W.W. Law Lecture, hosted by Telfair in collaboration with the Savannah Black Heritage Festival, features outstanding African American writers and scholars.

Other connections and engagement with the community include summer youth outreach to 12 city-supervised Neighborhood Centers and a variety of tailored programs for seniors, audiences with disabilities, and veterans. Key annual events include: I Have Marks to Make, which celebrates the therapeutic power of art, exhibiting work by individuals with disabilities or in rehabilitation; Pulse Art and Technology Festival, the only annual new media festival offered at a museum in the south and one of only a small number in the United States; and, Telfair's Juneteenth, celebrating freedom, African American culture, and history, with events including lectures, oral history, storytelling, and performance.

Telfair (www.telfair.org), welcomes approximately 225,000 visitors each year, is supported by substantial fundraising, earned revenue generation, and an annual endowment draw. The annual operating budget is approximately $5.5 million, and the museum's endowment is approximately $30 million. Telfair has a dedicated and highly qualified staff of approximately 65 team members and is committed to a diverse workforce and a healthy workplace. Telfair is governed by an active and engaged Board of Trustees, composed of 29 elected members, 11 honorary members, and six ex officio members.


The Director and Chief Executive Officer (Director) will provide the leadership and direction necessary to bring Telfair's three distinct properties and the broad range of its collections to their fullest potential. Reporting to the Board of Trustees, the Director is responsible for the artistic vision, resource development, planning, and fiscal oversight, and the overall management of Telfair Museums.

The Director will take the lead in defining the scope and direction of Telfair as an exciting and important cultural, architectural, and historic resource and a source of pride for the city of Savannah, the region, and the state of Georgia. The Director will ensure that each Telfair entity continues to provide compelling and innovative exhibitions and educational programming, public events, and activities to attract the broadest possible audience. The Director will serve as the primary spokesperson and chief fundraiser for Telfair, articulating and embracing the importance of private support as an integral component of institutional success, wellbeing, and stability. Additionally, they will play a significant and enthusiastic role in cultivating major donors and developing key relationships with Telfair's individual, corporate, government, and foundation supporters.

The Director will inspire staff and build active participation and support from the community, including local artists and leaders of other Savannah-based cultural institutions. They will also build strong relationships with business and community leaders and city- and state-elected officials and representatives, keeping in mind that the entire community is an important stakeholder in the continued success of the institution.


It is expected that the Director will be a highly creative yet pragmatic leader who can generate ideas, as well as empower and support others to implement them. They will give priority to the following:

  • Work with the Board of Trustees Strategic Planning Taskforce to create and implement a new strategic plan; galvanize Board, staff, and other stakeholders by setting and communicating highly creative and ambitious goals; leverage Telfair's historic strengths and character; know who the organization is serving, its key players, constituents, and base of support, and most importantly, understand and capitalize on its tremendous potential;
  • Establish connections with and proactively cultivate major donors by engaging, building, and maintaining strong relationships; broaden the donor base by expanding the museum's reach geographically, and identifying and cultivating new donors to ensure long-term sustainability beyond the organization's current base of support;
  • Foster a strong working relationship with the Board and its leadership; understand their strengths and capabilities and bring forth their best ideas, efforts, resources, and contacts; ensure that the Board is provided with timely and clear information and that Board committees are appropriately staffed and supported in their work;
  • Expand the reach and impact of Telfair's exhibitions and educational programs; explore the most effective quantity and frequency of exhibitions; ensure the integration and balance of exhibition and educational objectives; leverage the museum's collections to create new and enduring partnerships with artists, collectors, and other museums;
  • Develop compelling ways to promote Telfair's many activities to its member base and work to increase the appeal of the museum to new members and a diverse community audience; creatively enhance and strengthen the activities, benefits, and unique offerings of the Director's Circle, the William Jay Society, Friends of African American Arts, and other affinity and member groups; encourage increased giving across all levels of membership; identify and expand earned revenue opportunities;
  • While serving Savannah and the surrounding area first and foremost, develop strategies to position Telfair as a must-see destination for visitors, including higher-profile exhibitions, activities, and programs which specifically attract and serve Savannah's significant tourist population; partner with area hotels, the Chamber of Commerce, other cultural institutions and businesses to prioritize this captive revolving source of revenue; continue to promote the Telfair as a premier asset for the region's economic development efforts;
  • Hire, manage, motivate, and evaluate staff; pursue and maintain excellence in performance, creativity, execution, and delivery of services; maintain a collegial staff structure and environment, and delegate appropriate responsibility; ensure administrative policies and procedures are timely and represent the highest museum standards.


The ideal candidate will have or be the following:

  • A record of achievement in bringing about change in exciting and creative ways; demonstrated leadership and management skills, with the ability to set and maintain high standards among staff to create a cohesive, high-achieving, team-oriented environment;
  • Proven track record as a dynamic and accomplished fundraiser; successful results in identifying, cultivating, and soliciting major donors, foundation grants, government support, and corporate sponsorships, and generating other sources of earned revenue;
  • An understanding of and commitment to Telfair's broad range of collections; knowledge of the art world and a network among its key players; an ability to translate this into meaningful collaborations and high-quality exhibitions;
  • A commitment to educational outreach, networking, and informative thought-provoking programming that attracts and engages all citizens of Savannah and beyond;
  • Financial acumen commensurate with running an institution the size and stature of Telfair, able to interpret and articulate financial statements and financial performance;
  • Conversant in the use of technology and digital media in promoting an institution, reaching audiences, and creating innovative and engaging exhibitions and programs;
  • Superior communication and presentation skills that are effective with a range of audiences, including volunteers, staff, business and community leaders, the media, and the general public;
  • An advanced degree in art history or another appropriate discipline is preferred.


The Director should be or have:

  • A hands-on leader committed to the mission of Telfair, who will quickly gain the respect and credibility of all key constituencies; eager to engage and be highly visible within the community; comfortable being the public face and advocate for the museum;
  • Demonstrated scholarship and intellect; able to generate enthusiasm and inspire others; a strong and capable presence with a sense of urgency and a get-things-done attitude;
  • An individual who practices good judgment and exudes ease, credibility, and a delight in the work at hand; an outgoing people person with the ability to pick up on cultural cues and who will warmly embrace the Savannah community;
  • Persuasive and resourceful; politically savvy and diplomatic; a problem solver with strong management ability; someone who can motivate and direct others; able to delegate and prioritize multiple activities and responsibilities with clarity and confidence.

Please submit applications and nominations to the attention of Becky Klein and Mark Tarnacki at TelfairMuseums@PhillipsOppenheim.com.

Telfair Museums is an equal opportunity employer and strongly encourages applications from candidates of any race, color, religion, creed, gender, national origin, age, disability, marital or veteran status, sexual orientation, and/or any other legally protected status.

Telfair Museums in the Age of COVID-19

Like many museums all over the world, Telfair Museums closed its doors to the public on Friday, March 13, 2020, in response to the growing uncertainties and challenges posed by the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic. Next, our CFO/COO and Board of Trustees, along with one of our most important Standing Committees, the Budget and Finance Committee, developed a cash budget model for the financial operation of the museums that pared back revenues to the most realistic levels and reduced all expenses to the extent possible while maintaining the museum's safety and care. This model allows Telfair Museums to stay financially stable during these unprecedented times and, at the same time, not negatively impact our endowment portfolio or create further debt from other borrowings.

We are truly fortunate as an art museum to project stable fiscal solvency, during these difficult times for nonprofit organizations worldwide. A strong and supportive Board of Trustees, dedicated staff, seven years of consistent fiscal growth (earned income), and a successful initiative (the Jepson Challenge) to eliminate past debt, has put Telfair Museums in a strong position to meet any future fiscal challenges.