Muscarelle director to step down at end of calendar year

Aaron De Groft will step down as the Muscarelle’s director at the end of the calendar year.

“There’s a fresh new year coming, a time for fresh starts,” De Groft said. “I just thought it would be a good time for me and my family, I need to find a better work-life balance for me and my family. There are just things I need to take care of with my family and I just thought it would be best.”

De Groft said he doesn’t know what exactly he’s going to do next in terms of his career.

“I’m just taking the chance to be with my family and see what the next chapter of my professional life may be,” De Groft said.

“We thank Aaron De Groft for his 13 years as director of the Muscarelle — a period that saw our museum grow substantially in national and international relevance — and wish Aaron well as he considers the next phase of his career,” said William and Mary Provost Michael Halleran, in a prepared statement.

One thing De Groft said he’s gained from his time at the Muscarelle is experience turning something inherently not entrepreneurial into something entrepreneurial.

“I think (the museum) was recognized this last year when the chamber of commerce voted us best business partner of the year because we are running a very important downtown business,” De Groft said. “People that come to these exhibitions, especially the big exhibitions, have to eat at restaurants, they have to sleep at hotels.”

For example, he said the Botticelli exhibit brought a lot of visitors during Williamsburg’s weakest part of the year.

“To know the museum can be an economic driver is really, really important,” De Goft said.

He said when he took over, the Muscarelle’s budget had been cut by 90 percent, and with only about 10,000 visitors a year it was close to closing. De Groft said at the peak of the Botticelli exhibit, there were more than 100,000 visitors.

In his time there he said the museum has also quadrupled its membership and number of programs, raised its endowment from $3 million to $30 million and doubled the size of the collection.

“Including major paintings by Peter Rubens … important works by women, Marguerite Gérard, a couple Andrew Wyeths … and a Raphael,” De Groft said.

He attributes the museum’s success to having a high-quality product, art, and shamelessly promoting it to the public.

“The museum today is an internationally recognized museum,” De Groft said. “We’ve done exhibitions on Michelangelo — Leonardo, Caravaggio, Botticelli.”

He said the museum is now a place where people can find something they can be engaged with, and realize art is an important part of life.

De Groft will be replaced by David Brashear, who has served on the museum’s Board of Trustees almost 20 years. Brashear will become interim director effective Jan. 1.

According to his website, Brashear has had his work displayed in the Muscarelle and has 28 pieces of his art on permanent display in the Mason School of Business.

This change in leadership comes during another shift for the Muscarelle. Museum staff and programming will be in a satellite location on W. Duke of Gloucester Street while the Martha Wren Briggs Center for the Visual Arts is being built.

“We are also very thankful that David Brashear has agreed to lead the museum during this interim period,” Halleran said in a prepared statement. “David brings to this role a great deal of knowledge about the museum and the university, and I know he will serve as an excellent bridge during the transition.”

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