introducing Paul Coffey

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston names new leader of its prestigious art school

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston names new head of prestigious art school

Paul Coffey Glassell School of Art
Paul Coffey takes over at Glassell in July. Photo by Cosmo Coffey

The nation’s only museum-affiliated art school serving pre-K through post-graduate students now has a new leader. Paul Coffey, a long-tenured leader at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, is the new director of the Glassell School of Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Coffey takes over for beloved Glassell director Joseph Havel, who steps down after a 30-year run. The new director begins on July 18, per an MFAH announcement.

“Paul Coffey brings to the Glassell School of Art and to Houston an extraordinary commitment to art, education and community,” said MFAH director Gary Tinterow in a statement, “one that he has demonstrated over two decades in leadership roles at the renowned School of  the Art Institute of Chicago. I know that he will bring thoughtful leadership to the Glassell School, which is so essential to the Museum’s educational and artistic mission and which, under Joe Havel’s direction, became a center of creativity.”

Most recently, Coffey served as vice provost and dean of community engagement at the School of the Art  Institute of Chicago for the past 11 years.

There, he is credited for spearheading a series of innovative community-focused programs. These include: SAIC at Homan Square, the School’s campus in the underserved Chicago neighborhood of North Lawndale, offering free art and design programming for residents of all ages, degree courses for SAIC students and an artist-in-residence program.

Other work includes summer intensives for military veterans with PTSD, in collaboration with CreatiVets; and the College Arts Access Program in Continuing Studies, a  free, three-year college-bridge program for Chicago Public Schools students with artistic  talent and financial need. 

Academically, Coffey also oversaw the planning and implementation of new programs at  SAIC, including the Low Residency MFA, Master of Architecture, Master of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies, Master of Design in Designed Objects, Bachelor of Arts in Visual Critical  Studies, BA with emphasis in Writing and BA with emphasis in Art History, Theory and  Criticism, per his bio.
He received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1989; an MFA in art  and design from the University of Chicago in 1992; and completed the Institute for  Management and Leadership in Education at the Harvard University Graduate School of  Education, in 2018, per a release.

A longtime Chicagoan, Coffey tells the Houston Chronicle’s Andrew Dansby that he was inspired by Houston and the MFAH long before he took up employment here. “Having studied art all my life, being an art student since I was a teenager, I learned about the Menil Collection, the Rothko Chapel,” he says. “I’ve studied paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.”