Scottsdale‘s Museum of the West Announces New Leadership Transition

Dr. James Burns

Scottsdale Museum of the West has announced a phased succession plan for its founding director and chief executive officer, Mike Fox, who has led the institution’s planning, development, opening, and management since 2008. 

After a national search conducted by an ad hoc committee of the Board and Fox, who will remain the institution’s Chief Executive Officer, the museum has named W. James Burns, Ph.D., its new Executive Director, effective mid-October. 

Burns comes to Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West from the Arizona Historical Society where he has been its Executive Director since 2018, overseeing the management of 12 institutions. Previously, he served as Interim Director of the Center for Creative Photography, as well as Director of the University of Arizona Museum of Art, Tucson, which followed his successful tenure as Executive Director of the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg. 

“Dr. Burns’ longstanding professional background in the Western region, his many outstanding leadership achievements in history, anthropology, and art institutions in Arizona and three other states along with his active engagement in regional and national professional museum organizations and his scholarship and passion shown for the American West, make him my ideal successor responsible for the day-to-day operations of the museum,” Fox said.  

It will be the second time in Dr. Burns’ career that he will be working with Fox, as his first museum position before earning his doctorate in educational policy studies from Georgia State University was at the Museum of Northern Arizona and its Colton Research Center where Fox was its Director/CEO.

“For someone who has been privileged to have directed a number of institutions and supported and mentored scores of museum professionals for over 50 years, it is a most proud and crescendo moment of my career, and a rare occasion, to heartily welcome as my successor a former colleague who has matured and excelled in the museum field since working with one another nearly 30 years ago,” Fox said.  

“SMoW is still in its infancy, poised to take its place among the leading Western American art and history cultural institutions,” Burns said. “I am privileged to have the opportunity to help lead the institution through the next phase of its growth.”

Burns, whose interests include the social and environmental history of the American West, along with the cultures and arts of the region, earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Arizona and a master’s degree from Arizona State University in public history.  He is also a graduate of the Museum Management Institute, then hosted by the Getty Leadership Institute, and he has served as past Chair of the Curators’ Committee of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), as an AAM accreditation reviewer, as a peer reviewer for the Museum Assessment Program, and as a board member of the Western Museums Association.  

“This appointment of an Executive Director responsible for the institution’s continued development of outstanding exhibitions, public programs, community outreach, marketing, and fundraising, is enthusiastically supported by the Trustees,” said Board Chairman Jim Bruner. “Dr. Burns’ years of impressive leadership in the museum profession, and notably his contributing roles in the development of the Booth Museum of Western Art in Georgia and the maturation of the Desert Caballeros Western Museum bode well for him to lead our six-year-old institution to great new milestones. The museum is fortunate that it will have the vision, experience, and management qualities of two regional and national museum leaders of their different generations to implement this new leadership succession plan in an exemplary manner.“

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