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Culture

Dr. Katherine Fleming, President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, Speaks with TNH

September 23, 2022

NEW YORK – Dr. Katherine E. Fleming is the new president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, as its Board of Trustees announced in a press release in April of this year.

An academic leader and internationally recognized scholar, she was awarded honorary Greek citizenship by the Hellenic Republic in 2015. Dr. Fleming spoke with The National Herald about her career and her role at Getty.

TNH: Were you always interested in pursuing a career in academia?

Dr. Katherine E. Fleming: I was privileged to be raised by parents who took ideas, education, and learning very seriously. But when I was a child, I certainly didn’t have the goal of becoming an academic. As I recall, I wanted to be an architect, not that I fully grasped what that involved! And for a while, I wanted to be a flight attendant.

TNH: What made you decide to take on this new role at Getty and what are you looking forward to working on the most?

KF: I’m really enjoying working with an entirely new group of people, people who, most impressively, have devoted their careers to the preservation, dissemination, and study of art. I took the job because I was ready to step away from university administration, but still wanted to work in a world that values the humanities and cares about cultural preservation. Just as it’s refreshing for me to be in a new environment, I’m hoping it will benefit Getty to have someone who’s a bit of an outsider take a look at it with new eyes.

Dr. Katherine E. Fleming. Photo by Cassia Davis. © J Paul Getty Trust 2022

TNH: How has your experience as Provost at NYU prepared you for this new chapter in your career?

KF: As provost, especially of an institution as large as NYU, you kind of see it all. While theoretically the job is to guide the institution’s academic strategy and profile, a huge amount of it is like being an air traffic controller at a very busy airport – you have to keep track of literally thousands of things at the same time and be fairly speedily responsive to them. In terms of ability to multi-task while also hanging onto some sort of big-picture vision, my past job was a real boot-camp. Provosts also are first and foremost colleagues of the faculty with whom and for whom they work. That’s the lens through which I’m approaching my new co-workers – and I think it’s a helpful one.

TNH: You are well-known in the Greek American community for your published works, are you working on any new books or projects related to Greece?

KF: My big current undertaking related to Greece is the oral history project I cofounded in partnership with the well-known and highly regarded Greek journalist, Sofia Papaioannou. It’s called “Istorima,” and can be found in Greek and English versions at www.istorima.org.

I hope everyone will listen to at least one of Istorima’s stories or podcasts every day – and perhaps also share their own story with our team in Athens.

As noted in the Getty press release, “the Alexander S. Onassis Professor of Hellenic Culture and Civilization and Professor of History and Hellenic Studies at New York University, Dr. Fleming served as the NYU provost— the university’s chief academic officer— since 2016. She joined Getty on August 1, succeeding Jim Cuno, who retired in the summer after more than 10 years as Getty president and CEO.”

“Katy Fleming is a distinguished scholar and educator. She is a visionary, experienced leader, with an extensive understanding of global cultures and their importance in uniting all of us,” said Getty Board Chair David Lee in the press release. “At this critical moment in our world, she is the ideal leader to guide one of the world’s largest, most complex cultural organizations, and to continue Getty’s trajectory of supporting and sharing visual arts and culture for the greater public good.”

The press release highlighted the responsibilities of the position: “As CEO, Dr. Fleming oversees all local, national, and global operations of the 1,400-employee Getty Trust and its four component programs: the Getty Foundation, which issues global philanthropic grants supporting the visual arts; the Getty Research Institute, which houses scholars and the world’s largest art archives in the Getty Library; the Getty Conservation Institute, specializing in conservation science and training for cultural preservation around the world; and the J. Paul Getty Museum. The museum operates in two locations: the Getty Center, housing photographs and pre-20th-century European art in Los Angeles; and the Getty Villa, housing Greek, Roman, and other antiquities in Malibu.”

Of her appointment, Dr. Fleming said in the press release: “The mission of the Getty is more vitally important than ever, as environmental degradation and global upheaval threaten the world’s artistic and cultural heritage in unprecedented ways. Getty’s remarkable ability to make an impact in Los Angeles and around the world make it both a huge honor and responsibility to be asked to take on its leadership. I look forward to working with Getty’s many experts to further its mission and to assert the critical relevance of art and the humanities to our diverse shared pasts and our collective future.”

“Dr. Fleming’s extensive scholarship has focused on Mediterranean, Jewish, and Greek history and religion, including the emergence of the Modern Greek state; the reception of classical antiquity; and the role of changing attitudes toward religious affiliation,” the press release noted. “She speaks seven languages and is co-founder of a multi-year oral history project [Istorima] in Greece that has collected 55,000 histories, supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.”

According to her biography on the NYU website, Dr. Fleming earned a BA in religion from Barnard College (1988), MA in religion from the University of Chicago (1989), and PhD in history from the University of California, Berkeley (1995). “She began her academic career in Southern California in the 1990s, working as a lecturer at Cal State San Bernardino; UC Riverside; Loyola Marymount University; and UCLA before joining NYU,” as noted in the Getty press release.

Among her many awards and honors, Dr. Fleming was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2021.

In Greece, she served as president of the board of the University of Piraeus from 2012-2016 and holds honorary doctorates from the University of Macedonia and Ionian University.

More information about the J. Paul Getty Trust is available online: https://www.getty.edu/about/.

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