UPDATE: Don Bacigalupi Leaving Crystal Bridges to Lead George Lucas' Chicago Museum

UPDATE: Don Bacigalupi Leaving Crystal Bridges to Lead George Lucas' Chicago Museum
Don Bacigalupi

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville announced on Monday that Don Bacigalupi, museum president and board member, will leave as president on Jan. 14 but will retain his place on the museum's board.

Bacigalupi has been named the founding president of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, to be built in Chicago, with a proposed opening date in 2018. The $700 million museum is funded by filmmaker George Lucas, who created "Star Wars."

Crystal Bridges and the Lucas Museum made separate but apparently coordinated announcements about the move. 

Bacigalupi joined Crystal Bridges as executive director in 2009. He was key in the planning and development of the museum's art collection and opening of the museum, which has seen more than 1.5 million visitors since it opened on Nov. 11, 2011.

Bacigalupi most recently oversaw the opening of the museum's popular State of the Art exhibition, which focuses on new and emerging American artists. The exhibition has gained national attention and was listed by Artnet News as one of "The 25 Must-See Museum Shows Around the World."

The exhibit, which opened on Sept. 13, has already received more than 88,000 visitors.

Museum spokesman Beth Bobbitt said Monday in response to questions that Crystal Bridges was "evaluating needs and long-term goals" and was considering whether to name a replacement as museum president and that the role of Rod Bigelow, museum executive director, would not immediately change.

In February 2013, the museum announced that Bacigalupi had been promoted to the newly created position of museum president and that Bigelow, previously the museum's deputy director for operations and administration, was taking Bacigalupi's post as executive director.

The museum also announced at that time that Bacigalupi has been named to a seat on the Crystal Bridges Board of Directors.

In an interview Monday afternoon, Bigelow repeated that his job would change little with Bacigalupi's departure. "When I became executive director I was really focused on day-to-day operations and that will continue," he said.

Bacigalupi was instrumental in planning and assembling museum exhibitions, and Bigelow said that Bacigalupi, as a member of the museum board, would continue to advise on the selection of art. But Bigelow, whose background is in finance, also noted that Mindy Besaw, curator of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West's Whitney Western Art Museum in Cody, Wyoming, would soon join the museum staff and would play a role in art selection.

In July, Crystal Bridges announced Besaw's hiring as curator and the promotion of two staff members to curator, Manuela Well-Off-Man and Chad Alligood, previously assistant curators at the museum. Alligood assisted Bacigalupi in the selection of artists and works for the State of the Art exhibit.

Bigelow came to Crystal Bridges in 2010, serving as the deputy director of operations and administration before his promotion to executive director. Bigelow formerly served as chief operating officer and interim executive director at the Toledo Museum of Art, where he worked under Bacigalupi. Bigelow said he was happy at Crystal Bridges and had no plans to follow his boss to Chicago and the Lucas Museum.

In a press release on Monday, Crystal Bridges founder and board Chair Alice Walton said of Bacigalupi:

"Don's achievements at Crystal Bridges have been numerous, and many of our successes are attributable to his guidance leading up to the opening of the museum and continuing into our highly successful next three years.

"He came on board when the museum was in its early stages, guiding our direction through the building phase and helping to shape the development and exhibition of our art collection. His expertise in overseeing the launch of new institutions makes him an ideal leader for the Lucas Museum, and we’ll be applauding his accomplishments. We are pleased that he will retain his connection to Crystal Bridges as a member of our board."

"Leading Crystal Bridges through its construction, opening and early years has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience and honor," said Bacigalupi. "I am so proud to have worked with such an incredibly passionate and capable team — of staff, board, and volunteers — to achieve such extraordinary successes. I often say that we've made a good start at Crystal Bridges, and I look forward to the great momentum continuing. I'll be a lifelong friend and fan."

"It has been a pleasure to work with Don during our tenure together at Crystal Bridges, and he has played a vital role in helping the museum achieve its goal of sharing great works of art with wide-ranging audiences," Bigelow said in the Crystal Bridges' press release. "The current State of the Art exhibition is just one example of his commitment to raising the profile of American art, and he has helped pave the way for us to carry forth in our mission."

The Lucas Museum's press release noted that Bacigalupi's first duties in his new job would be to "focus on the planning, organization and construction of the Museum."

The Lucas Museum in July announced that MAD Architects, based in Beijing, had been selected as the principal designer for the museum site and Studio Gang of Chicago was chosen to design the landscape. VOA Associates, based in Chicago, was announced as the executive architect and is leading the implementation of MAD's design.

"Don shares my vision for building an education-focused, world-class museum that expands public understanding and appreciation of narrative art," said George Lucas, founder and chairman of the Lucas Museum. "Don's decades of experience include a proven track record for building a museum from inception, and he recognizes that community partnerships and multidimensional programming are critical to ensuring a museum's long-term impact."

Before joining Crystal Bridges, Bacigalupi was president, director and CEO of the Toledo Museum of Art, where he oversaw the construction and development of its world-renowned Glass Pavilion. He previously was the executive director of the San Diego Museum of Art.

Bacigalupi earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in art history from the University of Texas at Austin, and he received a bachelor's degree in art history from the University of Houston.

Bacigalupi has served on the boards of numerous organizations, including the Association of Art Museum Directors and the National Committee of the International Council of Museums.