After two years leading the largest art museum in the city, Derrick Cartwright announced today that he’s resigning as director of Seattle Art Museum, effective June 30, to "take a break" and "pursue his own projects."

"This was a difficult decision for me but with SAM today in a much stronger position than when I arrived, I believe the time is right for a change in leadership," he wrote in a letter on SAM’s blog.

The news comes shortly after SAM announced its 2010 Picasso exhibit, of 150+ artworks on loan from Paris, had a $66 million impact on Washington state and drew 405,000 visitors—second only to the King Tut exhibit in 1978, which drew 1.3 million. Meanwhile, museum membership is at an all-time high. All the more reason why Cartwright’s resignation is unexpected.

"I am proud that SAM has achieved so much and I am confident that the institution will continue to build on this success," Cartwright wrote. "I am eager for a break and for the chance to undertake my own projects. First, I aim to spend more time with my family and refresh my professional perspective. My passion for art history has been on hold while I focused on the most urgent administrative and financial challenges here. Now, I want to re-establish my personal connection with the artists, objects, and ideas that got me into museum work in the first place. My family and I have fallen in love with Seattle and we expect to remain here, so I hope to see you often."

When I first met Cartwright back in early 2009, we were both starting new jobs in a new city. He was—is—kindly and thoughtful, an art historian in a fundraiser’s suit. He spoke candidly for an hour about his goals and fears: of Seattle being in a position "to do something bold that expresses the forward-thinking-ness of this community… to do things of international significance," but at the same time worrying about the “Seattle Way of decision-making.” How he heard that “there are many, many conversations before any decision gets made.” Kind of tough you want to see new things on the walls every two months.

Still, Cartwright seemed up to the challenge, embracing his new role as Museum Man About Town. He was out every night greeting the art community, though he admitted he’s more of a "sit at home, listen to music, have a glass of wine and watch baseball with my son kind of guy." And he faced highs and lows, Picassos and furloughs. Though he mentioned returning to scholarly projects for now, he’ll also stay on as a consultant for SAM through September 2012. Will update as I learn more.

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