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Former Princeton arts official Jeff Nathanson named new director of the Museums of Sonoma County

Jeff Nathanson is pictured at the Art Museum of Sonoma County with the current exhibition, "Eye Fruit: The Art of Franklin Williams." (Katie Azanza)

DAN TAYLOR,

Jeff Nathanson, a veteran arts administrator and curator from Princeton, New Jersey, has been named the new executive director of the Museums of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa, taking charge of two downtown venues devoted to art and to history.

Nathanson, 61, formerly served as executive director of the Arts Council of Princeton for 11 years, from 2005 through 2016, leading a major capital campaign for the building of a new arts center in downtown Princeton. He is set to begin in the new post Sept. 5.

He succeeds Diane Evans, who headed the two Santa Rosa museums — the Art Museum of Sonoma County and the History Museum of Sonoma County — for almost nine years. She left the job last November to take over as owner of The Competitor, a tennis equipment store in Santa Rosa’s Montgomery Village shopping center.

“I’ve always believed that art is relevant for everyone, and history is very important to the region and the community,” Nathanson said. “My goal would be to make these museums engaging and interesting to anybody and everybody.”

Nathanson arrives at an significant period in the history of the Santa Rosa museums. In 2015, Evans oversaw the opening of the Art Museum of Sonoma County at Seventh and B streets, next to the historic post office building that houses the History Museum of Sonoma County. The move followed decades of struggle to balance the demands for both art and history exhibits.

One of the projects Nathanson will inherit is the planned expansion of the art museum, now occupying the back half of the former Conklin Brothers flooring company warehouse. Beyond that, he aims to connect with artists and arts organizations in Sonoma County and broaden the reach and audience for both museums.

“It exciting, because there is so much the Museums of Sonoma County can be for the community,” Nathanson said. “I look forward to expanding the outreach of the museums out into the community and make them more of a welcoming venue for the diverse range of people who live in the area.”

A former mixed media artist, Nathanson, a guitarist, is married to Connie Tell, director of the Center for Women in the Arts and Humanities at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey. Their daughter, Anya, 21, will be a senior at Rutgers this fall.

“We’re going to be a bicoastal family until the end of school year next spring,” Nathanson said. He will be relocating to Santa Rosa. Nathanson’s salary for his new job is $150,000 a year, he said.

Before Nathanson went to work for the Arts Council of Princeton, he served as a special projects curator for the Princeton University Art Museum and director-president of the International Sculpture Center in Hamilton, New Jersey. From 1991 to 2000, he was executive director of the Richmond Arts Center in Richmond, California.

Originally from Los Angeles, Nathanson studied at UCLA and holds a bachelor of fine arts degree from the UC Santa Cruz, where he studied fine arts and arts management, and a graduate certificate in nonprofit fundraising from the Indiana University School of Philanthropy in Indianapolis.

“I am excited that Jeff Nathanson is coming to lead our organization into the future,” Richard Tempero, president of the Museums of Sonoma County board of directors, said in a statement released Wednesday.

The two museums are run by a 18-member board directors on a budget of nearly $800,000 a year. About 20,000 people, including 3,000 children on school tours, visited the venues last year.

The board invites the public to meet Nathanson during the opening reception for the next art exhibition, featuring important works from local collections, from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 16. Information: 707-579-1500, museumsc.org.

Staff Writer Guy Kovner contributed to this story. You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @danarts.