The Long Island Museum announces retirement of Executive Director Neil Watson

The Long Island Museum announces retirement of Executive Director Neil Watson

Executive Director of the Long Island Museum, Neil Watson (center) with his successors, Joshua Ruff (left) and Sarah Abruzzi (right) on the grounds of the LIM in front of the sculpture by Hans Van de Bovenkamp, “Montauk Sun & Moon,” 1986. Photo by Kristin Cuomo
Deputy Directors Sarah Abruzzi and Joshua Ruff named as successors

The Long Island Museum (LIM) in Stony Brook a Smithsonian affiliate dedicated to American history and art with a Long Island connection, announced May 5 that Executive Director, Neil Watson, will retire in October of 2022. During his nine years of dedicated leadership to the LIM, Watson introduced visitors to award winning exhibitions and educational programs, increased Museum membership, and enhanced musical programs. Along with Watson’s retirement, the LIM’s Board of Trustees also announced that the LIM’s current Deputy Directors, Sarah Abruzzi and Joshua Ruff will succeed Watson as Co-Executive Directors of the LIM.

Neil Watson’s contributions to the Long Island Museum have been beyond measure,” said Thomas M. Sullivan, the LIM’s Board of Trustees Chair. “His leadership and vision transformed the Museum into a more dynamic and representative reflection of our history and art. By assembling a fantastic group of talented people who shared his vision for how the museum serves the community, it is without question that Neil Watson had a transformative impact on the Long Island Museum.”

Since 2013, under Watson’s distinguished leadership, the LIM reopened the History Museum, initiated a new outdoor sculpture program and partnered with local organizations, such as the Sunday Street singer/songwriter series and North Shore Pro Musica, to bring a chamber music series to the community. During Watson’s tenure, the Museum’s annual operating budget has grown to nearly 3 million dollars and the Museum’s Endowment funds have doubled to over 40 million dollars. He also created a new level of membership to enhance and support the rich artistic talent on Long Island, entitled LIMarts: A Collaborative Arts Group, which currently has over 125 active artist members and offers the opportunity and space for the exhibition and sale of artwork.

“Retirement is never an easy decision, but it is even more difficult when you love what you do,” said Watson. “Here at LIM we are all dedicated to the idea that a museum can tell stories about who we are, through art, craft, history, music, and film. I could not be prouder of our accomplishments over the past nine years. Part of a director’s job is to imagine the future, and I felt strongly that we had two people in place who had the vision to take on the dual leadership model. Creative solutions make for creative outcomes, and the LIM culture is about trust, respect, and innovative thinking. I’m thankful to the Board, who were open to implementing a different model of museum leadership. I have the utmost confidence that Sarah and Joshua will bring their enthusiasm and expertise to guide the Museum into the next phase. As I take my exit, I can only thank them, the Board of Trustees, the gifted staff, and the community for giving me the most fulfilling years of my career.”

Sarah Abruzzi is an accomplished executive and fundraising professional with over 20 years of experience in the non-profit sector. Throughout her career, she has worked in all aspects of museum operations, including education, interpretation, collections management, volunteer coordination, fundraising, finance, HR, communications, and government relations.

Abruzzi grew up in Port Jefferson and remembers with great fondness her childhood visits to the LIM with her family. She first worked at the LIM in the late 2000s before spending eight years outside of the museum field serving as the lead fundraiser for Dr. Richard Leakey’s Kenya-based human origins research project at Stony Brook University. Abruzzi jumped at the chance to return to the LIM in 2017 as Director of Major Gifts and Special Projects. Abruzzi’s amiable management style and thoughtful approach to leadership paved the way for her promotion to Deputy Director/Director of Advancement & External Affairs in February 2019. Additionally, she previously served as Director of Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay,  and The Three Village Historical Society in Setauket.

Entering his 25th year at the LIM, including the last three as a Deputy Director and the last nine as the Director of Collections & Interpretation, managing both the Curatorial and Education departments, Joshua Ruff has a proven track record of strong leadership, excellence, and versatility as well as years of expertise in all facets of museum operations.

A lifelong resident of New York State, he is a graduate of Syracuse University with BAs in Broadcast Journalism and in History, and Stony Brook University with a MA in History. After curating or co-curating nearly 70 exhibitions of a variety of scale and scope and many publications, Ruff is a recognized scholar of Long Island art and history, two crucial components of the Museum’s mission. In addition to co-authoring several books and exhibition catalogs, his articles have appeared in publications including the Magazine Antiques; American Art Review; New York Archives Magazine; and American History magazine. Beyond his work at the Long Island Museum, Ruff has served in a variety of service capacities for outside organizations, including as Grant Reviewer for NYSCA’s Museum Program (2015-2018) and as an incoming member of the Board of Directors for the Museum Association of New York (2022-2025).

Neil Watson has been such a dynamic and collaborative leader for this museum, and we have learned and gained so much from him. We will miss him,” said Joshua Ruff,  Deputy Director and Director of Collections & Interpretation at the LIM.  “Sarah and I are thankful to the Board for this leadership opportunity and we are really excited for this new chapter. We’ll work hard with all our talented colleagues to take the LIM to new and exciting achievements,” Ruff continued.

Neil’s humility and humor have helped shape the LIM into the treasured community resource it is today,” said Sarah Abruzzi, Deputy Director and Director of Advancement & External Affairs. “Josh and I are honored to be a special part of Neil’s legacy and look forward to continuing his tradition of honest, inclusive, and transparent leadership in service of the Museum, our colleagues, and the community we all care so deeply about.”

The new organizational structure builds upon the strong and collaborative work environment that Watson cultivated at the LIM during his tenure. Over the past several years, the three have worked closely with the rest of the LIM’s talented Senior Staff to create a culture of equability and opportunity among the entire LIM staff of 39 people. Watson’s visionary plan of streamlining LIM’s work flow into two main areas will take place in October with Ruff responsible for Collections and Programming, and Abruzzi responsible for Operations.

“I can’t stress enough how supportive and instrumental Neil was to the expansion of the LIM’s Education Department,” said Lisa Unander, Director of Education at the Long Island Museum since 2013 and at the Museum for the past 16 years.

“His unique non-hierarchical and highly creative approach can be credited for how the LIM has been able to push the boundaries of our programs and become the even more inclusive community centered organization it is today. It won’t be the same without him, but he has instilled a welcoming, positive and vibrant workplace culture that I know Sarah and Joshua will continue to build upon as they continue the museum’s mission,” Unander continued.

Exhibitions during Watson’s career at the LIM include the groundbreaking Long Road to Freedom: Surviving Slavery on Long Island, the first major museum project to examine slavery from a Long Island regional historical perspective, Walt Whitman’s Arcadia: Long Island Through the Eyes of a Poet & Painters to mark the American bard’s 200th Birthday, and Fire & Form: New Directions in Glass, a visually striking exhibition featuring more than 50 works from nine contemporary artists.

Watson is known for his community engagement and charismatic style, and while serving as the Executive Director of the Katonah Museum of Art for nearly eight years, he also served on the Board of the Katonah Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Board of Arts Westchester, and as a museum panelist for the New York State Council for the Arts (NYSCA). Prior to joining the LIM, Watson was the former Chief Curator of the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington and the former Curator of Contemporary Art at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, FL.

About the Long Island Museum

Located at 1200 Route 25A in Stony Brook, the Long Island Museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate dedicated to enhancing the lives of adults and children with an understanding of Long Island’s rich history and diverse cultures. Regular museum hours are Thursday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $5 for students 6 -17 and college students with I.D. Children under six are admitted for free. For more information visit longislandmuseum.org.

 

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