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David Hillenbrand

President, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh





On May 17, 2005, David M. Hillenbrand, Ph.D., became the eighth president of Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. As the son of an American diplomat and a Bayer executive for the past 28 years, the world has been his home, his teacher, his workplace, and his inspiration. He grew up in Germany and other parts of Europe, where his intense appreciation for history and the arts was nurtured. As president & CEO of Bayer in Canada, he lived in Toronto for eight years in between leadership positions that brought him to Pittsburgh for much of the ‘80s and back and forth to Germany. Throughout his Bayer career, he was active in programs that promoted the arts and children’s science literacy. At the young retirement age of 57, he had just decided with his wife Georgianna to live full-time in Savannah, Georgia—a city they’ve come to love—when another city beckoned, Pittsburgh. And while they still plan to retire someday to their Savannah home, the Hillenbrands are looking forward to their return to western Pennsylvania.

Why take this position now?
The idea of being able to engage in a completely different area that appeals so directly to my own interests was really enticing. This is the kind of opportunity that is very energizing to me because it combines being part of an environment that speaks to my intellectual interests with the discipline of business, which has been my professional background.

It’s an interesting and stimulating challenge: How do we make sure that the museums remain viable entities as we appeal to a new generation of potential supporters who get their information and their impulses in completely different ways than we did?

Did anything surprise you as you met with the search committee?
The board’s commitment really impressed me. The willingness of people like Suzy (Broadhurst) and Lee (Foster) to step in and take on the active management of the organization so thatsufficient time could be taken for a proper search spoke volumes.

The second thing I found really interesting was the institutional planning process that the board and the senior management team had gone through over the past two years. I think they not only did a good job, but they also managed to accomplish a great deal with a very large group of people. They needed an extremely strong sense of purpose, mission, and strategy to align all of these diverse interests in a common direction. And they obviously had that.

What are some of the things you’d like to see happen at Carnegie Museums?
I feel there are very real opportunities to market the Carnegie franchise to a much broader constituency base…to develop alliances with other museums and institutions and foundations outside of the Pittsburgh area to try to create a broader platform for Carnegie Museums.

The truly great museums go far beyond the boundaries of their own cities to establish an outreach that has an impact on people throughout the country and, sometimes, the world. So that’s something that really interests me: more widely marketing the Carnegie brand—its collections and purpose.

Also, we need aggressive advocacy of the arts in terms of why it’s important to have broad interests, broad sensitivities, and a great sense of curiosity—and Carnegie Museums could be an even stronger advocate. Most of society can agree that the arts and culture are contributing factors to civilization and the quality of life; but they cost money, and when there are priorities to be set, we often make choices not to spend our resources there. That is not a formula
for success.

Did your decision to accept the position surprise people who knew you?
No, they saw the fit. They knew I had these interests, and in the corporate world I was always an advocate of involvement with the arts, science education, and cultural pursuits in general.

Where does that stem from?
I think it goes back to a number of factors: first and foremost, I believe very strongly that you are generally a product of your education and cultural environment. And to that extent, I had a broad liberal arts education and grew up in an environment in which I was provided with many, many opportunities to get involved with the arts—through my parents and also by being exposed to some of the great museums of the world.

Also, when I lived in Pittsburgh and was active with the Bayer Arts Committee, Dr. Konrad Weis (former president & CEO of Bayer) served as a great example of someone who carried out his passion for the arts at the same time he was CEO. Our Art Committee didn’t try to cram it down anyone’s throats, but we certainly felt that by putting together a stimulating collection and placing it in the environment where people worked, it would cause people to react one way or another. And it did. Our employees didn’t necessarily like everything, but we engendered a lot of conversation. It got people to stop and think and talk…and it created a richer work environment.

Are you an art collector?
Well, my wife and I have a collection of Inuit art that we’re very proud of. It started with our interest as expatriates in Canada, trying to understand more about the indigenous forms of art in Canada.

The Inuit are one of the three aboriginal peoples in Canada, and they live in some of the most barren and difficult physical environments you can imagine. The idea that they can find so many ways and media in which to create art was fascinating to us.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing Carnegie Museums—and, for that matter, any museum?
Well, I am far too new in the job to talk about specific challenges facing the Carnegie Museums, other than to say how impressed I am with the quality and potential of these exceptional institutions.

I would say generally, however, that many museums run the risk of losing touch with their constituencies, particularly if they have not been able to change and adapt to the requirements of a new generation of museum goers.

Museums can be pretty intimidating places if they don’t constantly reinvent themselves by asking some very, very serious questions about who they are and how effectively they are fulfillling their purpose.

I know that many museums struggle with this. I also know that Carnegie Museums has been addressing its issues through, among other things, an institutional planning process that I’ve found really impressive. I look forward to being a part of that discussion!

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