Cleveland Museum of Art director resigns after extramarital lover commits suicide

Jasmine Gallup, Staff Reporter

On Monday, Oct. 21, after only three years of working at the Cleveland Museum of Art, David Franklin became the fifth director since 2000 to leave the institution. Though museum board chairman Steven Kestner declined to comment at the time, he confirmed two days later that Franklin’s extramarital affair with former museum employee Christina Gatson, who committed suicide in April, was what led to Franklin’s resignation.

Gatson, 34, was the managing director of ChamberFest Cleveland, an annual chamber music festival. According to The Plain Dealer reports, the museum board became aware of the relationship between Gatson and Franklin in early October after receiving information in the form of the April 29 police report detailing the circumstances of Gatson’s suicide, the medical examiner’s autopsy report, and other information. The Cleveland Heights police report states that Franklin was the one to discover Gatson’s suicide, calling the police just after midnight Sunday, April 29. Kestner, in his statement, declined to elaborate on how the information led to Franklin’s resignation.

Franklin’s departure leaves the museum in an unenviable position, as they face both criticism and concern from the public. The museum, again without a permanent director, is two months away from opening its new West Wing galleries, containing Chinese, Indian, and Southeast Asian art. The event will signal the completion of an eight-year, $350 million expansion and renovation project, one of the largest in Cleveland’s history, and one for which the museum still has to raise over $90 million. In 2017, the museum celebrates its centennial anniversary.

For the time being, Franklin will remain as a consultant to the museum while the search once again resumes for a new director. During the search, which could take more than a year, Fred Bidwell, a trustee for the museum since 2009, will serve as interim director for the museum.

While Franklin’s staff change is certainly significant, visitors of the museum may be reassured by the museum’s recent decision to appoint Deborah Gribbon as the interim chief curator, following former chief curator C. Griffith Mann’s departure to work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This change, however, once again reflects another upheaval in the museum, as Jon Seydl, its curator of European painting and sculpture since 2007, will be leaving for the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts.