Deborah Marrow, a Getty Leader With Global Reach, Dies at 70
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LOS ANGELES — Deborah Marrow, who as the longest-serving executive at the J. Paul Getty Trust, and the only woman to serve as its president, started far-reaching programs to promote scholarship and diversity in the arts, died on Oct. 1 in Santa Monica, Calif. She was 70.
Her husband, Michael McGuire, confirmed the death but did not specify a cause.
From 1989 until her retirement in 2018, Ms. Marrow led the grant-making arm of the trust, now known as the Getty Foundation. In that role, she shared the Getty’s enormous wealth with cultural institutions around the world, issuing $410 million to art scholars, museums, universities and more by drawing on an endowment now approaching $7 billion.
Most notably, she directed grants of about $28 million to nearly 100 California arts institutions for a research and exhibition project she spearheaded called Pacific Standard Time. The first edition of the project, established to expand scholarship on the growth of the arts in Los Angeles after World War II, culminated in dozens of museum shows and catalogs in 2011. The second edition, in 2017, focused on another underexamined field: Chicano and Latin American art.
In the wake of the rioting after the verdict in the Rodney King police-brutality case, Ms. Marrow, in 1993, created the Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Internship, a program designed to address a lack of racial and economic diversity in the cultural sphere. The program has paid for some 3,400 undergraduates to work at local art museums and other nonprofit organizations, allowing students who can’t afford unpaid internships to get a foot in the art world.
“The Getty’s internship program has been, in my opinion, the single most important initiative in Los Angeles tackling the core problem we face in diversifying our field — economic inequity,” said César García-Alvarez, the founder of the nonprofit arts space The Mistake Room, which has used Getty interns.
“Deborah’s legacy is monumental for many reasons,” he added, “but for a lot of curators of color who got their start because of the Getty internship, she’ll always be the M.V.P.”
Ms. Marrow was twice chosen to serve as interim president of the Getty Trust, which oversees the J. Paul Getty Museum, a research arm and a conservation program, as well as the foundation. The first time was in 2006, after the resignation of Barry Munitz amid an investigation by the state’s attorney general into allegations that he had misused public funds for personal benefit. Ms. Marrow was entrusted to clean up the mess.
“It was a very challenging moment for the Getty,” said Joan Weinstein, Ms. Marrow’s successor as foundation director. “And it’s not surprising that they turned to her then, because of her integrity.”
She was appointed interim president again in 2010 after the death of the Getty’s next president, James N. Wood, and before the appointment of its current leader, James Cuno. No other woman has served as president or interim president.
Ms. Marrow served for 16 years on the board of trustees of her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, and advised the university president, Amy Gutmann. “She mentored younger women but also supported more experienced leaders,” Ms. Gutmann said in a phone interview.
One such leader was Anne d’Harnoncourt, then the director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Ms. Marrow was a quiet adviser during Ms. d’Harnoncourt’s successful campaign in 2006 to help acquire “The Gross Clinic,” an 1875 painting by the Philadelphia artist Thomas Eakins. The effort prevented a rushed sale by a local medical school and kept the masterpiece in the city.
“I could always call her when I was thinking about something, knew that I would get good advice,” Ms. Gutmann said, “and not worry that it would make the front pages of The Philadelphia Inquirer.”
Deborah Marrow was born on Oct. 18, 1948, in Manhattan to Seymour and Adele Marrow. Her father owned a clothing manufacturing company, and her mother was a homemaker with an interest in the visual arts. Raised in Scarsdale, N.Y., Deborah grew up going to museums in New York City.
At the University of Pennsylvania, where she met her future husband, she majored in history and graduated in 1970. She went on to Johns Hopkins University to receive a master’s degree in art history, with a focus on Baroque painting. She returned to Penn for her Ph.D., writing her dissertation on the patronage of Maria de’ Medici, France’s Florentine queen.
Her husband’s job at a consulting engineering firm took the couple to Los Angeles in 1977. There, Ms. Marrow joined the city’s bustling feminist art community, becoming managing editor of Chrysalis, a short-lived but important magazine that published poetry and essays by writers like Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde. She joined Getty in 1983 as a publications director before moving to its philanthropic arm.
In addition to her husband, she is survived by her daughter, Anna, and her son, David.
Having trained for a job in academics, Ms. Marrow found the Getty job a happy surprise. “It turned me from a specialist in 17th-century European art into a generalist responsible for giving grants,” she told The Art Newspaper in 2018. “It gave me the opportunity to think about art and architecture across the entire world.”
The artist Judy Chicago got to know Ms. Marrow as part of Los Angeles’s feminist scene in the 1970s, “when we were all caught up in the delicious fantasy that we were going to change the world,” Ms. Chicago wrote in an email. “And we did, but not as much as we had hoped.”
“Deborah forged a different path from those of us who did not feel comfortable in institutions,” she added. “She joined the Getty, and in her quiet and persistent way pushed it to be more inclusive, which was no mean feat.”