A little over a year after the nonprofit Spanish Colonial Arts Society appointed an acting director for its museum, it has hired another one, Alex Romero.

A New Mexico native who most recently served as CEO of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce and University of New Mexico regent, 71-year-old Romero replaces Josef Díaz, who, Romero said, left for personal reasons.

Díaz could not be reached for comment on his departure.

Romero, meanwhile, said he has urged the organization’s board to begin a search for a long-term director for the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art following this year’s Traditional Spanish Market, which the group presents each July on the Santa Fe Plaza.

The society’s board president, Joel Goldfrank, and vice president, Robert Coffland, could not be reached Thursday for comment on the leadership change.

The Spanish Colonial Arts Society is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. It was founded by writer Mary Austin, artist and author Frank G. Applegate and a group of collectors. In 2002, the society opened its privately funded museum on what is now Museum Hill inside a Spanish Colonial-style residence designed by architect John Gaw Meem and built in 1930.

This summer marks the 68th year for the society’s Traditional Spanish Market, which spotlights an array of traditional Hispanic artists in New Mexico, including santeros, potters, weavers and furniture-makers. While it’s still a draw for art collectors and tourists, some artists said the market has declined, with lower attendance by traditional artists, smaller crowds of shoppers and fewer sales in 2018.

The market, like the museum, also has undergone a leadership shake-up in the past year.

Catherine Owens was hired as market director in March 2018 — about the same time Díaz took over the museum — and left the organization in August, shortly after Spanish Market ended. The arts society board then chose Davis Rasch as the new market director, a position he still holds.

Romero said registrations for this year’s show are up by about 10 artists over last year — around 160 in all.

Though his background is firmly anchored in the banking business and he has never run a museum, Romero said he isn’t worried about his ability to oversee the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art until the director’s position is filled on a more permanent basis.

In an interview two years ago, Romero told The New Mexican he had never earned a college degree but attended several business schools before entering the banking business in the early 1970s, first running a credit card services department.

He said he previously served as chairman of the New Mexico Economic Development Commission, as a member of the board of trustees for the former College of Santa Fe and as a faculty member of the BMA School of Bank Marketing at the University of Colorado. He retired from his job at the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce in the spring of 2017.

“I’ve been looking back at everything I’ve done over the past 50 years, and I was never an expert in any of those fields,” he said Thursday.

As acting director of the art museum, Romero said he will focus on balancing the budget and improving marketing efforts. “That’s my strength, absolutely,” he said.

Romero declined to disclose his salary but said he is on contract through the end of the year. He began working with the museum on a contract as a business adviser in February and said the board appointed him Monday to the acting director position.

“This came up suddenly,” he said. “When I left home for work Monday morning, I didn’t anticipate anything like this. We have a lot of programs coming up, including the market, so I agreed to be acting director through the end of the year.”

The museum’s biggest challenge is to preserve its legacy and tradition while drawing in more visitors and supporters, Romero said.

“You always have the challenge of resources,” he said. “Sometimes it’s human resources; sometimes it’s just the whole business of running an operation.”

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.