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DeCordova taps John Ravenal to be executive director

John B. Ravenal
John B. RavenalVMFA

New leadership is on the way at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum.

John B. Ravenal, currently the curator for modern and contemporary art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, will take the helm as new executive director in mid-January. Interim director Katy Kline has been in place since the departure of Dennis Kois at the end of April. The Lincoln museum, which has an annual budget of about $5 million, was set to announce Ravenal’s appointment on Monday.

Kois left after a six-year tenure that was seen as a time of growth for the deCordova, overseeing enhanced fund-raising efforts and a sharper curatorial focus on sculpture, as well as a five-year strategic plan that went into effect in 2011.


A career curator who has been at the Virginia museum for more than 16 years, Ravenal says that he was particularly attracted to the deCordova because of its recent momentum.

“Their new sense of ambition is something that really interests me. The key feature of the plan is deciding that what is unique about the deCordova is its sculpture park, and I completely embrace that,” he says. “It was brilliant to figure out what was unique, as opposed to what makes them just another midsize museum in New England, and to take that and place it at the center, and decide that everything else has to support that mission.”

Ravenal, 55, was born in Providence and relocated to Washington, D.C., when he was 9. His wife, Virginia Pye, a short-story writer and essayist whose first novel was published last year, is a Belmont native. They currently live in Richmond, where their son is a senior in high school; their daughter is a college senior. Ravenal is no stranger to the Lincoln museum campus; with an aunt and uncle in neighboring Weston, he says, he visited it many times as a child and young adult. Maine’s Mount Desert Island has been a favorite family vacation spot.


Ravenal’s duties in Virginia have included planning for and then programming the museum’s sculpture garden, which opened in 2010. He has been president of the Association of Art Museum Curators, and held curatorial positions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford.

“As soon as you meet him, you have an incredibly warm, intelligent, thoughtful person in front of you,” deCordova board of trustees chair Gerry Frank says. “He has an ability to really work with a broad range of persons — donors, funders, people from all walks of life — and to have done that with great aplomb.”

Ravenal says he has been asked to stay the course with the institution’s in-progress strategic plan, but to freshly examine the strategy, particularly with respect to envisioned changes to the deCordova’s grounds.

“They don’t want a complete change of course, they want someone to implement the vision,” he says. “But they also want me to evaluate, to come in at a time before they’ve started actually moving buildings, creating new buildings, engaging landscape designers for expansion. They want someone to really study that, and make sure that it’s on track, and makes sense and fits with the vision.”

Jeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at jeremy@jeremydgoodwin.com.