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Legacy of transformational leadership and expansion leaves Institute poised for future growth

For Immediate Release
March 19, 2015

[Digital image available upon request]

Williamstown, Massachusetts––Michael Conforti, the Felda and Dena Hardymon Director of the Clark Art Institute, has informed the Clark’s Board of Trustees that he will retire on August 31, 2015 after more than twenty years in the position. Conforti, who has served as director since November 1994, has been widely credited for his transformational leadership of the Institute and is recognized as a leading innovator and advocate in the museum community. Under Conforti’s direction, the Clark has grown in both size and stature and has established an international reputation as a leader in the generation of new ideas and critical thinking in the field.

“It has been an extraordinary privilege for me to have the opportunity to be a part of the Clark’s growth over these last twenty years,” Conforti said. “There have been many wonderful opportunities that have propelled the Clark in new directions and have set the course for an even brighter future. The Board of Trustees and our remarkable staff have fueled the Clark’s success on many fronts and I have been proud to be a part of this important and exciting undertaking. This is the right moment to encourage a new generation of leaders to begin to imagine the plans and programs that will continue to advance the Clark and its unique dual mission.”

During his tenure Conforti advanced the Institute’s dual mission as both an art museum and a center for research and higher education in the visual arts. Under Conforti’s leadership, the Clark’s special exhibition programs have won acclaim for their rigorous scholarship and promotion of new thinking on a diverse range of subjects. The Institute also initiated a number of international programs, including a recent tour of its French paintings collection, which drew more than 2.4 million visitors in twelve cities across Europe, Asia, and North America, as well as exhibitions and cultural exchange programs in partnership with Chinese museums. Conforti gave form to the Clark’s Research and Academic Program (RAP) which has become a leading academic forum for the field. The program has welcomed more than 300 scholars from twenty-seven nations who have pursued fellowships at the Institute, and has played a central role in linking art historians and scholars through engagements in Africa, Asia, and Europe. The Institute’s endowment has grown from $128 million to $357 million, and its art and library collections have expanded considerably through important gifts and acquisitions. These include the 2007 gift of more than 300 works that established the Manton Collection of British Art with an accompanying $50 million in funding for the Institute—making it the largest gift to an American museum in that year.

These programs have spurred the growth of tourism and positioned the Institute as a leader in the regional economy. Conforti’s early support for the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) forged an ongoing partnership that is central to the area’s growing national prominence as a rich and diverse cultural destination, and he has played a leadership role in civic and regional economic development organizations. In addition, the Clark’s public outreach efforts have expanded to serve its diverse constituencies. Thousands of children visit the Institute annually to participate in its award-winning arts education programs, and the Clark has developed a series of specialized programs to engage underserved communities, as well as free family programs that attract thousands of visitors annually.

Most recently, Conforti led the Clark’s $145 million capital campaign to fund its campus expansion, which opened in July 2014 to public and critical acclaim, including Apollo magazine’s award for 2014 Museum Opening of the Year. An international team of architects and engineers, including Tadao Ando, Selldorf Architects, Reed Hilderbrand, and Gensler, reconceived the 140-acre campus, added two new buildings (the Clark Center and the Lunder Center at Stone Hill), renovated the original Museum Building, and initiated the renovation of the Manton Research Center (scheduled for completion later this year).

“Driven by his creativity, determination, and energy, Michael has overseen a period of exceptional progress at the Clark,” said Andreas Halvorsen and Robert Scott, chair and vice chair, respectively, of the Clark’s Board of Trustees. “His commitment to the Clark’s role in advancing and extending the public understanding of art has been inspirational. We are deeply grateful to Michael for his vision and extraordinary work.”



In addition to his work at the Clark, Michael Conforti has earned international recognition in the museum field as a visionary leader. He served as president of the Association of Art Museum Directors from 2008–2010, and as a trustee (2001–04, 2007–12). Conforti serves on the trustee executive committees of the American Academy in Rome and the Amon Carter Museum (Ft. Worth, Texas), and is a trustee of the Canadian Centre for Architecture (Montreal) and of MASS MoCA. He is also a member of the Hermitage International Advisory Committee (St. Petersburg, Russia). Conforti previously served as a trustee of ICOM US (International Council on Museums) and was on the CIHA’s (Comité international d'histoire de l'art) National Committee for the History of Art from 2000–2012. He served on the Visiting Committee of the J. Paul Getty Museum from 1989–96 and chaired the board of the Art Museum Image Consortium (AMICO) from 2003–05. Conforti was a Fellow (1975–77) and the Louis I. Kahn Resident in Art History (2007) at the American Academy in Rome, an Andrew Mellon Visiting Scholar at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art (1993), and a guest scholar at the J. Paul Getty Museum (1988). In 1987, he received the Robert C. Smith Award for the most distinguished article in the field of decorative arts, and in 1989, he received the Charles F. Montgomery Prize from the Decorative Arts Society. The Swedish government awarded him the Order of the Polar Star in 1988. He teaches in the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art, jointly organized by the Clark.

Conforti, 69, is a graduate of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and began his career at Sotheby’s in London. He subsequently received an MA and PhD in art history from Harvard University. Prior to his tenure at the Clark, he served as Chief Curator and Bell Memorial Curator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (1980–1994). From 1977–1980, Conforti was Curator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. He and his wife Licia live in Williamstown and have two children, Peter and Julia.


The Clark Art Institute, located in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, is one of a small number of institutions globally that is both an art museum and a center for research, critical discussion, and higher education in the visual arts. Opened in 1955, the Clark houses exceptional European and American paintings and sculpture, extensive collections of master prints and drawings, English silver, and early photography. Acting as convener through its Research and Academic Program, the Clark gathers an international community of scholars to participate in a lively program of conferences, colloquia, and workshops on topics of vital importance to the visual arts. The Clark library, open to the public with more than 240,000 volumes, is one of the nation’s premier art history libraries. The Clark also houses and co-sponsors the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art.

The Clark is located at 225 South Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Galleries are open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is $20; free year-round for Clark members, children 18 and younger, and students with valid ID. For more information, visit or call 413 458 2303.

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