Laguna Art Museum has tapped Julie Perlin Lee, outgoing executive director of Catalina Island Museum, to lead the storied organization amid a pandemic that has devastated art institutions across the country.
Lee succeeds Malcolm Warner who retired in December after a nine-year run with Laguna Art Museum. She’s set to start her new role on May 3.
“With Julie we have a person with strong experience managing exhibitions and collections, and yet someone with experience in senior level museum administration,” said Joe Hanauer, chair of Laguna Art Museum’s Board of Trustees. “It’s typically one or the other, but usually not both.”
After her arrival in 2016, Lee spearheaded high-profile exhibitions and educational programs and oversaw the development of the museum’s new building in Avalon. She curated exhibitions by Elizabeth Turk in 2019 and Peter Shire in 2018.
The Orange County native has deep roots in the art and higher education communities.
She attended Cal State Fullerton where she earned a bachelor’s in Art History, her master’s of fine arts in Exhibition Design, and a Certificate in Museum Studies.
Before joining Catalina Island Museum, Lee was the vice president of collections and exhibition development at the Bowers Museum where she worked from 2008 to 2016. During her tenure in Santa Ana, she procured acquisitions for the Bowers’ permanent collection, directed research and preservation, and organized exhibitions.
As a part-time faculty member at Cal State Fullerton and Irvine Valley College, Lee instructed museum studies courses for Anthropology and Art majors, The Catalina Islander reports.
Art curation is Lee’s family business. Her spouse, David Lee, is the art gallery curator at the Coastline Community College Art Gallery in Newport Beach.
“I feel so fortunate to be joining Laguna Art Museum at this time in its history,” Lee said in a prepared statement. “After one hundred years of achievements, we are in position to get started right away on new growth and success; I really see the opportunities as limitless.”
In an October 2020 opinion column published by CalMatters, Lee highlighted significant inconsistencies in the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic that negatively impacted museums, including the Catalina Island Museum.
“Despite our own financial losses of $250,000, we raised enough money in a day-of-giving to offer three months of free admission for our community which is in need of psychological relief as unemployment in Avalon has reached as high as 90%,” Lee wrote.
Southern California museums have been permitted to ramp up attendance in recent weeks amid declining case rates and progress on vaccine rollout.
Following Orange County’s entry Wednesday to the Orange Tier of the state’s system for managing COVID-19, museums can open indoors at 50% capacity with some modifications. Laguna Art Museum screens all workers and volunteers for symptoms at the beginning of their shift, guests and visitors are screened for temperature upon arrival, and everyone must a face covering. The museum still recommends visitors buy advance tickets for timed entry.
Despite the restrictive health orders, Laguna Art Museum earned headlines in November for supporting the installation of the rainbow-colored Art and Nature exhibit, Patrick Shearn’s “Sunset Trace” along a pedestrian path from Heisler Park to Main Beach.
“I am energized by the board’s commitment to expand and strengthen the organization’s collection of art, its ambition to ensure the longevity of the museum by growing its endowment and financial standing, and especially by its driving vision to stand out as a museum that gets people excited about California’s rich artistic history,” Lee said in a prepared statement.