Richard Aste, director and CEO of the McNay Art Museum since 2016, has decided to leave his post after his current contract expires in late 2022. After discussions with the museum’s board, Aste agreed to stay on through January 2023 until a successor is found.
“I want to be here through this transition to ensure that everything is smooth and successful,” Aste said.
While Aste said he’s been involved with visual art since an epiphany at age 10 in front of Botticelli’s famous The Birth of Venus painting, he will be switching careers. Aste will join his longtime partner Max Goodman in Los Angeles, where he’ll join the executive coaching team at the University of California, Irvine.
Aste said a two-year term studying for his Master of Business Administration degree at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business influenced his decision to make the career change, as has his time working with McNay staff.
The Ross School program focuses on positive leadership, including what Aste termed “gracious change management.”
He defined the term as “being as inclusive as possible when introducing change” to an organization, “leaning into empathy, and realizing that change can be very challenging.”
He said his experience bringing change to the McNay taught him important lessons
, and inspired him to believe he can bring the same lessons to other organizations.
Early on in his tenure, Aste introduced the idea of aligning the museum with the community outside its doors, which meant that the staff, collections and exhibitions should reflect the population of San Antonio in all its diversity, he said.
“It was about making the McNay San Antonio’s place of beauty, but also of belonging, and about reflecting everyone and representing everyone here.”
Exhibitions that resulted from Aste’s leadership included Transamerica/n: Gender, Identity, Appearance Today, an exploration in visual art of an array of gender identities that grew out of discussions with members of various San Antonio communities.
That exhibition also drew the attention and support of major national funding foundations including the Ford Foundation, which then led to further support for the museum’s approach to programming from benefactors such as the Mellon Foundation and the Henry Luce Foundation.
Aste said he’s proud of having built such relationships with foundations committed to social justice, which he said aligns with his approach to executive leadership in the arts and in other fields.
“I am committed to helping leaders in the art world, but also in every industry to lead with purpose and love,” he said.
Other accomplishments during his tenure include a $6 million renovation to the McNay grounds, in part to make the expansive lawns and outdoor areas of the museum more welcoming to the community it serves.
Aste said he’ll miss the passion and commitment of his McNay colleagues and of the San Antonio community as a whole, which he described as “very welcoming.”
But after concentrating on his career goals for the past six years, he and Goodman now look to focus on Goodman’s work as a producer of children’s television, a role which has necessitated him living in Los Angeles, the U.S. center of the broadcast industry.
However, Aste’s experience with making change here will stay with him personally and inform his new professional life.
“What’s been effective here in introducing change is bottom lining the change with universal core values” such as integrity, community and inclusiveness, he said. When McNay board members accepted the changes Aste wanted to implement, he said, “I witnessed that in action, how powerfully [speaking] of [those] values can transcend every division.”
According to Rachel Trevino, McNay head of communications and marketing, the museum will begin a national search for a new director and CEO immediately.
Disclosure: Nicholas Frank participated in a 2020 Contemporary Art Month exhibition at the McNay Art Museum.