Updated: April 30, 2014 at 1:01 pm
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The president of a small Virginia college has been picked as the first woman to head the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.
Jo Ellen Parker, 59, announced her resignation from Sweet Briar College on Tuesday and will join the 120-year-old museum system on Aug. 18. The system consists of the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Carnegie Science Center and The Andy Warhol Museum.
Parker had served as president of the private liberal arts college for women since July 2009 and spent five years before that as executive director of the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education. The nonprofit is affiliated with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and helps 150 liberal arts colleges improve education using digital technology, and Parker said that experience and others will help in her new job.
"I've been part of collaborations that extended from five institutions to 12 to 150," Parker said. "For nonprofits in this day and age, going it alone is really not a feasible strategy."
The Carnegie's trustees and museum board members said her gender didn't factor into the decision to hire her, though board chair Lee Foster said when the group realized Parker would be the first female to head the museums it was an "aha moment."
Parker replaces David Hillenbrand to become the 10th president of the museum system.
The Carnegie Museums have a combined operating budget of roughly $66 million and attract nearly 1.3 million people annually through exhibits, educational and outreach programs.
The museum group's endowment is about $313 million, but is not without its financial challenges. They include an annual operating deficit of about $1.3 million at the natural history museum, renowned for its collection of dinosaur fossils.
Parker said the solution lies in thinking "creatively about what kind of value a natural history museum can and should be bringing to a community at this point in time. A strong answer to that question will go a long way toward helping us develop a business model and a revenue model that will sustain that wonderful collection and that wonderful staff."