James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art director Bernice Chu is leaving

She heads to the International African American Museum in Charleston, S.C.
Published July 8

The Tom and Mary James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art has announced the departure of its founding director, Bernice Chu. Her last day will be August 2.

Chu was hired as the James Museum’s interim director in 2017. With a background of experience in design, construction, budgeting and operations management, she was instrumental in organizing the downtown St. Petersburg museum, which opened in April 2018.

Her next endeavor is to help establish the International African American Museum in Charleston, S.C. Founders will break ground later this summer on the former site of Gadsden’s Wharf, the disembarkation point of approximately 40 percent of American slaves. In addition to a historical element, the museum will celebrate the accomplishments of the descendants of slaves.

“I love my job and what I do here and our team,” Chu said. “But I couldn’t turn down because it was an opportunity to work on a project that would touch people’s lives.”

Prior to her position at the James Museum, Chu worked for the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago.

She was often called on by institutions to help them reorganize to become more efficient. For instance, she guided the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s transition from being open from six to seven days.

The James museum contains 400 works of art from the more than 3,000-piece collection of Tom and Mary James. The 88,000-square-foot museum showcases 30,000 square feet of gallery space.

The opportunity to help the James Museum open from the ground up was enticing, and a first for her. She took everything she learned from “fixing” other organizations, namely creating a collaborative team. Chu said that by letting everyone be heard, more creativity and commitment happens.

“Mary and I would like to thank Bernice for her leadership, service and commitment to the museum and wish her the best on her future endeavors,” chairman Tom James said in a news release announcing Chu’s departure.

James also said that he and Mary James would be working with the museum’s core leadership team until they find a new director.

Chu said that the next director would likely have a different skill set than she did, including a background in development. She thinks the James’ can take their time to find the right person.

Just over a year after the museum’s opening, Chu feels confident in the museum’s operations.

“The museum team that we have now is incredible. They’re dedicated, they’re progressive. The leadership that I’m leaving here will be able to carry on beautifully. So I’m leaving Tom and Mary in good hands.”

Contact Maggie Duffy at mduffy@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8572. Follow @maggiedalexis.

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