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One on 1 Profile: Met President Ends 38-Year Affair with Museum

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Emily Rafferty recently announced that she will step down from her position as President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For almost forty years, Rafferty and the Met have enjoyed a long and beautiful friendship. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One on 1 profile.

After 38 years at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Emily Rafferty has decided it's time to leave.

"It's something that I've been thinking about...when the right timing would be. And it's defined itself for me in the last several months," she says.

Emily Rafferty has been the president of the Met, the largest art museum in the country, since 2005.

Her role as an influential behind the scenes New Yorker extends beyond the museum.

She's the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and the city's tourism and marketing agency, NYC & Company.

Rafferty serves on several boards, including the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, but the Met is home.

She worked in a number of executive roles before becoming President and she grew up in the neighborhood, going to the museum.

"When I was going to move back to new York in 1975, the one place I wanted to work was here. I was determined to work here," she says.

We interviewed Rafferty both before and after she announced she was retiring.

Rafferty is involved in many aspects of the Museum, but fundamental to her job is raising money—lots of money—for a museum that employs more than 2,000 people and welcomes more than six million visitors a year.

"It's a job you have to love. A lot of people say, 'how can you ask for money?' or 'I would be a terrible fundraiser.' Anybody can be a great fundraiser. Anybody can be a great fundraiser. You just have to love what you're doing and support it and understand it's not about you," Rafferty says.

Rafferty is almost always in promote-the-Met mode, so she has to know more about the museum than simply its finances.

"You're in the galleries for the department for Islamic art. The Islamic collections at the Met number about 12,000. They were off view for eight or nine years while we built the Greek and Roman court and this whole building," she says.

Rafferty has years of experience traveling the world to try to bring the best exhibits to the Met—India, Taiwan and many others.

Rafferty learned long ago that in these dealings, there has to be a respect for the other culture.

"The cultural patrimony is extremely sacred and anything that has to do with it being lent or conserved or touched or moved or anything is really something that resides in the office of the Prime Minister or the king and nothing happens, or the queen," Rafferty says.

Rafferty is the Met's first woman president. She says she never aspired to"firsts," but was reminded of its meaning when she became the museum's first female vice president in 1984.

"The first call I got was a very important arm of the museum, which—it shows my age—but it was from the telephone operators, which were all women, and they were the ones that made the call and that’s when I went, 'Wow, this really is going to penetrate,'" she says.

Rafferty grew up on the Upper East Side, one of six children after graduating from Boston University, Rafferty's interest was arts education, working with struggling students in Boston public schools.

"Taking high school students out of the Boston high school system who were not successful in the classroom and using the city as an urban laboratory using visuals—in those days, it was video cameras and Polaroid cameras and actually doing for-credit work as these kids explored Boston," she says.

Back in New York, she wanted to continue working in arts education. The Met didn't have any openings in that department.

"I saw on the roster that there was an opening in development. I knew enough by the time that you had to know how to raise money to do what you want to do so I figured, 'Oh, I’ll learn that for six months and then I’ll go to education and figure out what needs to happen,' and I never left," she explains.

The Met says it drew more than six million people in 2013, but Rafferty says the museum can do more to attract New York's immigrant population.

"We have really, lots of new people that we need to consistently send the voice out that we are accessible and everybody will find their roots here, which they do," she says. "What I love about it, and I see more and more of it as I walk through this museum, is how our backgrounds and the art that we think relates to us has been informed by every other culture, and that, I think, never ceases to be revealing for me even as long as I've been here," she says.

Rafferty is married with two grown children. She says she is able to get away from the work.

"On the other hand, there are people here who said, 'You never had a non-fundraising minute in your life.' You just live and breathe it, and if I can make a connection with somebody whether it's here or somewhere else, why not?" she says.

The financial crisis of 2008 hit the Met hard. The museum lost a reported $800 million in its endowment.

Hundreds of employees were laid off or accepted retirement packages.

"It's my least favorite thing. It's anybody's least favorite thing," she says.

"For that, it was always try to stand back and make sure that when decisions were made either cutting program, cutting money or having to lay off people that, in the end, it was going to be the right thing for the institution," she says.

The Met's stature—the exhibits from around the world, the multi-million dollar deals and donations, the large work force—might seem overwhelming.

If Rafferty starts to feel any of that, the solution is nearby.

"When you see something like this, it brings your question down to one-one which allows you to eliminate a lot of the noise that you asked about which is there, and that is at the end of the day, it's about the artistic achievement of mankind and the power that that has in everything that we do. And if we remember that, and how we're communicating that, the priorities begin to sort themselves out and the overwhelming is allowed to become, in fact, more productive," Rafferty says.

Now though, after an almost 40-year love affair with the Met, Emily Rafferty has decided its time for a new chapter.

"The exact how and why just all seemed to come to a moment for me and I would like to work in the public sector in another space than museums and have a different experience. I don't know what that will be yet, but that's what I'd like to do," she says.

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