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Lions Roar : November 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2008 80 largest independent preferred-provider organization in the country before selling it to The Carlyle Group in 2006. Shelley Rubin has said that her husband’s family experience gave him a particular sen- sitivity toward people of the Diaspora, peo- ple like the Tibetans whose culture is under attack, and that it inspired a need to help save, preserve, and give back. Donald Rubin says, “We have always seen art as a source of joy, inspiration, and healing. Given my background, I also see it as a means of posi- tive social change and cultural education.” But Kedmey thinks it’s more than that. “A lot of other people have dealt with simi- lar struggles and come from similar back- grounds, and they don’t end up like him,” she says. “Somehow he processed his back- ground and his life in a particular way, and applied it to his work and the world in a way others don’t.” Rubin’s working style is unusual for an experienced businessperson. In a documen- tary on the RMA website about the making of the museum, the designer Milton Glaser says, “Donald’s thesis is you put a bunch of people in a room and whoever comes out alive, wins. So the process has been....very interesting.” Rubin’s response is that “out of the dialectic and the struggle between peo- ple comes greatness.” He says working that way is just part of his personality. That personality is a very strong one. “He fights against bureaucracy constant- ly,” says one person close to Rubin, “and that either drives people crazy or they get it and love it and figure out how to work with it.” Sometimes Rubin assigns projects to a number of people with divergent styles to see who comes up with the best idea; this upsets participants who believe they are the only ones tasked. And he does not call on the “logical” experts for ad- vice, preferring instead to get input from a wide range of people he trusts at many different levels. It’s a bit chaotic at times, but it’s creative, which is important given the Rubins’ ambitions for the museum. From the beginning, the real challenge for RMA has been getting people in the doors and up to the galleries. Attendance has increased gradually and is running at around 150,000 annually. But Rubin is not satisfied. He issued a mandate at the beginning of 2008, which he describes in typical no-nonsense language: “I said we have to increase attendance by 50 percent. I told people we can sit on our asses and be complacent, or else we can get busy. We will get pretty close to meeting our goal.” RMA is on the map, and it has brought together fabulous resources and assem- bled an impressive, creative team. But how will the Rubins—who chose to locate this unique treasure on a quiet, tree-lined side street in residential Chelsea—lure people away from Museum Mile, across the city on the Upper East Side and home to a dozen top museums, including several of the most famous in the world? “WHEN WE HIRED Tim McHenry,” Donald Rubin says, “my only guidance was, ‘Make it happen!’ ” Rubin’s assign- ment for him: “I want to make this muse- um a destination spot in New York City.” McHenry is, at least in all matters of style, the other half of a very odd couple. He is even taller than Rubin, reed-thin, bespec- tacled, and he speaks with a British accent left over from years at a British boarding school. At forty-eight, he schedules him- self tightly, yet is generous enough to take ten minutes away from an interview to fetch coffee for a visitor on a cold, rainy morning. McHenry has been given the somewhat unusual title of “producer” to go along with his role as head of programming at the museum. As a story in the New York Times noted, McHenry’s title “describes a role that more museum professionals are acknowledging as important to at- tracting larger, more diverse, and younger audiences.” Both men are highly intelligent, ex- tremely capable, determined, and reput- ed to have tempers. McHenry knew that developing an audience for the RMA art would present a challenge. “There was a sliver of cognoscenti in this city who un- derstood Asian art,” he says, “and only a small percentage of them were into Hima- layan art. Clearly it was going be a struggle to get people in here.” Above, left to right: head of programming Tim McHenry; “Gallery Trek” family program; a rare all-acoustic per- formance by Laurie Anderson. Opposite: The galleries surround a spiral staircase de- signed by Andrée Putman. The building was formerly a Barneys department store. PHOTOSBYJOANGARVIN,JAVIERCONTRERAS,RICHARDCONDE NOV 74-83.indd 80 NOV 74-83.indd 80 9/1/08 12:23:58 PM 9/1/08 12:23:58 PM