“She has great experience both on the history and art side and combination of the two, which is what the National Portrait Gallery does,” said Richard Kurin, Smithsonian undersecretary for history, art and culture and chairman of the search committee that selected Sajet. “She’s had great experience running arts organizations. She’s an expert fundraiser and brings such an enthusiasm to the subject.”
Many of Sajet’s recent projects have focused on new media and virtual learning. At the Historical Society, Sajet focused on expanding digital projects and online archives. In 2009, she launched the Digital Center for Americana, which has posted 65,000 images of historical letters, documents and artwork online since its creation. At the Portrait Gallery, Sajet says she intends to focus on bolstering the museum’s efforts in the virtual realm.
“I’d like to be able to reach Americans across the country, which includes online programming,” Sajet said. “I intend to go outside of the Beltway and visit as many states as I can. The National Portrait Gallery is a national asset.”
The Portrait Gallery, dedicated to visual histories and renderings of American life, is housed in the Old Patent Office Building, now named the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture. It is the third-oldest federal building in Washington. The gallery shares space with the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Sajet will oversee the gallery’s $9 million budget and 65 staff members.
During the past several months, the Portrait Gallery has witnessed much transition. Last May, Sajet’s predecessor, Martin Sullivan, stepped down because of health concerns after leading the institution for four years. After Sullivan’s departure, Wendy Wick Reaves, the gallery’s curator of prints and drawings, acted as interim director. Last week, the gallery also announced the departure of longtime curators Frank Goodyear III and Anne Collins Goodyear, a husband-and-wife curatorial duo who have worked at the gallery since 2001. They were named co-directors of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and will begin their posts at the university’s Brunswick, Maine, campus in June.