Museology Master of Arts Program

April 6, 2021

Decision-Making at the Executive Level: How Boards of Trustees and Search Firms Hire Art Museum Executive Directors

Research Thesis by Devin Riley

The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand the decision-making process of art museums when hiring executive directors. To understand this phenomenon, semi-structured interviews were conducted with board of trustee members and search firm consultants who had been part of an executive director search at an art museum with at least a five million budget during the past six years. The interviews were informed by literature from the field of museology focused on museums governance and behavioral economics. Analysis of the data revealed five findings: art museum mission statements drove the decision-making process, fundraising was the most important skill desired in candidates, museums did not have minimum education level requirements for executive directors to have a PhD, participants believed their decision-making was unbiased, and decisions that were made were made collaboratively as a group. These five findings suggest agreement in what art museums value in an executive director and practices they similarly follow. These results have the ability to assist in future art museum executive director searches and can inform the museum community of the values held by decision makers. The primary limitation of this study was the small sample size due to the Covid-19 pandemic.


Riley, D. (2020). Decision-making at the executive level: How boards of trustees and search firms hire art museum executive directors (Order No. 28001233). Available from Dissertations & Theses @ University of Washington WCLP; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (2437499212). Retrieved from


Behavioral economics, Bias, Decision-making, Executive director, Hiring, Museology