Barnes Foundation appoints native son as new leader

 Thom Collins, a native of Media, Pa., will take the helm at the Barnes. He returns to the area after five years as head of the Pérez Art Museum in Miami. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Thom Collins, a native of Media, Pa., will take the helm at the Barnes. He returns to the area after five years as head of the Pérez Art Museum in Miami. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

After the Barnes Foundation completed its controversial move to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, the art institution looked for new leadership to guide its evolution.That quest led the Barnes board to Thom Collins, who has been hired away from the Pérez Art Museum in Miami. His new position as director and president of the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia is a homecoming.

Growing up in Media, Delaware County, where his parents still live, Collins made frequent trips to the Barnes in Lower Merion with his father. They made a deep impression.

“My father is trained as a social historian,” said Collins. “So his approach to talking about art – even to me as a preschool child — is one that tied works of art to the broader historical context in which they were produced.”

Education, and the stories behind the art on the walls, will be the focus of the Barnes, said Collins, who will become its new leader in March.

His predecessor, Derek Gillman, stepped down in 2013 having successfully moved the galleries from Lower Merion to the Parkway in Philadelphia. At almost the same moment in 2013, Collins cut the ribbon of the new Perez Art Museum Miami building, whose construction he oversaw.

The Barnes board chose Collins for his expertise in art education, community outreach, and fundraising. “We look forward to working with Thom as the Barnes enters its next phase of development,” said board chair Joseph Neubauer in a statement.

Albert Barnes assembled the collection of impressionist and early modernist art as an educational tool. Collins wants to add modern programming, technology, and educational ideas to further the original mission.

“It really has to do with evolving our understanding of what art education is,” said Collins. “A new approach — an evolved approach — to storytelling about the works on view at the Barnes will help us build audience, and build deeper relationships with audiences we already have.”

Collins said he is walking into a financially stable organization, with two years of programming and publishing already mapped out. He plans to spend his first few months on the job talking to partners and potential partners about expanding the foundation’s audience.

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