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Seattle Art Museum Libraries: Digital Collections

Changing of the Guard: 1970-79

Annual Report Cover (1975-76)

1975-76

Reports in the 1970s

At the beginning of the decade, SAM saw major achievements in terms of exhibitions and other public outreach events. However, the museum also had to balance these achievements with the reality of budget deficits and major administrative restructuring. 

This decade also truly marked the end of an era; in 1972, after nearly 40 years of dedicated work at the institution he co-founded, Dr. Richard Fuller stepped down as director and president of SAM to become Director and President Emeritus. The years following this landmark event proved to be about distributing one man's life work amongst the many left to lead in his absence: "...these activities represent a substantial reduction in time and commitment from that of my predecessor, the founder, Director and previous President, Dr. Richard E. Fuller, whose life and work was spent almost solely on the museum," noted John H. Hauberg, the man who overtook Dr. Fuller's role as president in 1972.

Together with a series of new directors, the Board of Trustees created committees for the long-term planning of the institution to ensure future financial stability. In response to pressing financial concerns, the Board of Trustees also decided to “[change] the fiscal year to one beginning July 1 and ending June 30, effective in 1972.” From this period forward, the annual reports were published according to this fiscal cycle. Ongoing financial struggles are perhaps reflected in the dramatic shift in production value of the reports, which include only a cover image in 1973-74 and 1974-75 - a departure from earlier reports, which showcased images of selected acquisitions from the year. Even more drastically in the following years, there are no images whatsoever and the reports appear to be typewritten on office paper, held together with low-cost plastic comb binding. This is a trend that would continue through the reports of the mid-1980s.

In the midst of these significant leadership transitions, SAM prepared for and presented the historic Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibition in 1978. The King Tut Ad Hoc Committee worked "for a full year in advance" to plan and install the exhibition at the Flag Pavilion in Seattle Center (1978-79). The hard work was worth the effort; King Tut was a resounding success. Indeed, it was a perfect example of how, through art, "the entire community came together to present a magnetic and memorable experience for the public, tourists, civic and charitable groups, schoolchildren, businesses and corporations, as well as for very special groups, such as the physically handicapped and the elderly" (1978-79). All told, roughly 1.3 million people visited the exhibition, which was "cited nationally as the finest in the United States" and "brought international recognition to the museum" (1978-79). Locally, SAM "received the annual public service award of the King County Arts Commission and [...][exhibition coordinator] Ewen Dingwall received the 1978 Mayor's Award for Civic Service" (1978-79). Treasures of Tutankhamun remains one of the most successful events in SAM history to this day.

Expansion of museum facilities was, as usual, an important focus of this decade, as was spreading the “burdens of leadership” during this busy time. President Hauberg explained:

Trustee involvement had grown rapidly as museum activities, and planning for museum expansion made the burdens of leadership too great for one person to bear. Mr. [Bagley] Wright has accepted the responsibility for an overview of the annual operations and needs of the museum, while I am now charged with long- range planning which includes a capital funds drive to support both expansion and the growth of the museum's collections and its endowment. Needless to say, it has been a busy year. (1977-78)

The paragraph could just as well have concluded “...it has been a busy decade.” No longer under the direct guidance of co-founder Dr. Fuller, SAM was coming of age and changing the guard.