At the conclusion of its monthslong, nationwide search for a new executive director, the Contemporary Jewish Museum has selected a local museum leader — someone so local, in fact, that he currently works around the corner at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Chad Coerver will leave his post as chief education and community engagement officer at SFMOMA to become CJM’s executive director on Sept. 1, the museum announced on July 21. Following the departure of Lori Starr last December, Kerry King has served as interim executive director and chief operating officer. She will stay on in the latter role.
“I think this is a great moment for the museum,” King told J. “We are coming out of a pandemic and moving forward stronger as a team, and now having this new excitement of Chad as a leader. I’m highly enthused and optimistic.”
Coerver has worked at SFMOMA for 22 years in a variety of roles and brings to the CJM a wealth of experience, specifically in the areas of digital programming, audience engagement and educational outreach, King said. He has overseen in-person and digital programs and built partnerships with community organizations and tech companies such as Adobe. During the past year, he spearheaded a project with the San Francisco Unified School District to distribute art-making kits to thousands of local students, according to a press release.
A native Texan who was raised Catholic, Coerver, 54, and his Jewish wife, Karen, belong to Temple Sinai in Oakland. The couple has two young adult children, whom they raised Jewish.
Coerver said in an interview with J. that the main challenges he expects to confront as the head of CJM are the same ones generally facing most museums right now: how to bounce back financially from the pandemic, how to attract visitors into your museum when pop-up exhibits like “Immersive Van Gogh” and the forthcoming “The Art of Banksy” are becoming more prevalent, and how to address pressing social justice issues. “I would say that museums need to attend to the emotional as much as the intellectual as they’re planning their activities going forward,” he said.
Another goal, he said, is to forge closer partnerships between the CJM and local Jewish institutions, and with the other museums in downtown San Francisco, including the Museum of the African Diaspora, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the under-construction Mexican Museum. “That’s a pretty powerful collection of thought leaders all within close proximity to each other,” he said. “What would new collaborations with those institutions look like?”
Unlike SFMOMA, the CJM is “program-based rather than collection-based,” which Coerver said presents exciting opportunities for experimentation. “You’re not anchored to the collection like you are at a traditional art museum, which gives you a lot more flexibility in thinking about the kinds of work you want to do and being able to shift direction,” he said.
As for being a non-Jew leading an institution dedicated to Jewish culture, history and art, Coerver said his background will be an asset in his new role. “I believe that my experience of coming to Judaism through intermarriage, which is so prevalent within Jewish culture right now, offers an opportunity for dialogue and bridge-building both inside the Jewish community and beyond,” he said. He added that he is interested in “connecting new people to the diversity of the Jewish experience.”
The CJM closed its doors March 12, 2020 at the start of the pandemic and briefly reopened from mid-October to the end of November before closing again. The museum officially reopened, with reduced visiting hours, on April 15. It is now open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. An exhibit on Levi Strauss is currently on view through Aug. 8, and two parts of a four-part exhibit on musician Leonard Cohen, called “Experiencing Leonard Cohen,” will open Aug. 5.
Lately, King said, the museum has been starting to see more visitors, including tourists. She said the CJM was able to weather the pandemic financially thanks to donations and two Paycheck Protection Program loans from the U.S. government. She expects the museum to be back at full operation by the middle of September, shortly after Coerver assumes control.
Coerver said he plans to remain in touch with his colleagues at SFMOMA. “There’s quite a bit of crossover between staff at SFMOMA and the CJM,” he said, “and as I talk to my colleagues at SFMOMA, I’m excited to say that I’m only walking down the block.”