Deborah Marrow, who retired as director of the Getty Foundation at the end of last year after more than three decades of leadership in various roles at the Getty, including two stints as interim president, died early Tuesday morning.
“No one has contributed more to the life and mission of the Getty than Deborah, and we will miss her deeply,” said James Cuno, president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust. “She provided inspiring leadership in almost every aspect of the Getty, in roles including director of the Getty Foundation, acting director of the Getty Research Institute, and interim president of the Getty Trust. She brought clarity, vision, and selfless dedication to her work, and made loyal professional friends around the world.”
As Foundation director, Marrow oversaw all grantmaking activity locally and worldwide in the areas of art history, conservation, and museums, as well as grants administration for all of the programs and departments of the J. Paul Getty Trust.
Cuno noted that one of Marrow’s proudest accomplishments was the creation of the Getty’s Multicultural Undergraduate Internship program, which over 27 years has dedicated over $14 million to support more than 3,400 internships at 160 local arts institutions in a pioneering effort to increase staff diversity in museums and visual arts organizations. The program was renamed the Getty Marrow Undergraduate Internship program in her honor last year.
“Deborah possessed a rigorous and generous intellect and embodied the Getty’s global commitment to the visual arts,” said Joan Weinstein, who succeeded Marrow as director of the Getty Foundation after serving as deputy director since 2007. “She was a mentor and a friend, who nurtured not only my career but those of countless other women in the arts. She led the Getty Foundation with honesty, integrity, and compassion.”
Marrow joined the Getty in 1983 as publications coordinator, and as director guided the Trust’s philanthropic activity since 1989, when it was known as the Getty Grant Program. In 2004, she became director of its successor, the Getty Foundation. In 2000, she assumed the additional role of dean for external relations for the Getty. In 1999–2000 she served as acting director of the Getty Research Institute. And she twice served as interim president of the Getty Trust, in 2006–2007 and again in 2010–2011.
Under Marrow’s leadership, the Getty Foundation awarded nearly 8,000 grants in over 180 countries.
One of the Foundation’s largest initiatives during Marrow’s tenure was Pacific Standard Time, which awarded approximately $28 million in grants to dozens of cultural institutions across Southern California. Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945–1980 highlighted contemporary art in post–World War II Los Angeles and involved dozens of museum exhibitions, a performance art festival, public programming, and more than 100 gallery shows. PST: LA/LA extended that unprecedented collaborative model to fund exhibitions and scholarly research focused on Latin American and U.S. Latino art throughout Southern California.
Other major Getty Foundation initiatives developed under her leadership have included the Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (2008–2014), which helped museums transition their collections catalogues into innovative digital formats that can be readily shared. Keeping It Modern focused on the preservation of 20th-century architecture around the world. Connecting Art Histories continues to bring together international scholars across national and regional borders for sustained intellectual exchange.
A specialist in Baroque painting, Marrow took special delight in the Panel Paintings Initiative, which trained a new generation of conservators to preserve works of art created on wood panels, protecting some of the most valued masterpieces of art for future generations. Under Marrow’s leadership the Foundation also launched Mosaikon, a joint effort with the Getty Conservation Institute and external partners to improve the care and presentation of ancient mosaics across the Mediterranean Basin.
During her tenure the Foundation also responded to major world events. The Central and Eastern European Initiative supported scholars and libraries in the region after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Closer to home, the Fund for New Orleans provided assistance to the city’s cultural institutions as they recovered from the impact of Hurricane Katrina.
“Deborah was a person whose sympathetic understanding and fine intelligence were immediately apparent on one’s first encounter with her,” said Neil Rudenstine, former president of Harvard and a former Getty trustee. “She was a natural, unselfconscious leader whose instinctive wisdom and utter integrity earned the trust of all who knew her and worked with her. A rare human being and a constant friend, she will be deeply missed and mourned by all who had the good fortune to know her.”
Marrow held a BA cum laude and PhD in art history from the University of Pennsylvania and an MA from The Johns Hopkins University. Her original scholarly research area was 17th-century European art and patronage. She began her career at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and taught art history at universities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Southern California. She was active for years in professional organizations in the fields of art history, museums, preservation, and philanthropy, and served as a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania and of Town Hall Los Angeles.
“Deborah Marrow was that rare phenomenon—an art historian who was respected, admired, trusted, and liked by her colleagues and fellows all round the world. That was in large measure because of the intelligence and imagination with which for several decades she administered the different grant programs of the Getty,” said Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum, who knew and worked with Marrow for many years. “Her generosity of spirit was matched by a luminous integrity. We have lost an outstanding public servant, a valued colleague, and a dear friend.”
Marrow is survived by Mike McGuire, her husband of 47 years, daughter Anna, and son David.
Memorial service information is pending.