The Museum Leadership Institute (MLI)–formerly known as the Museum Management Institute (MMI)–was first offered in 1979 in Berkeley, California under the auspices of the San Francisco-based Art Museum Association of America (AMAA) and the University of California Extension. The four-week program was intended to improve the management skills of mid-career and senior-level museum professionals. Faculty members were primarily leaders from the museum field. The J. Paul Getty Trust assumed full financial responsibility for the program in 1984 and AMAA administered the program on behalf of the Getty.
Over the three decades of its existence, MLI underwent periodic reviews to keep it current with the evolving needs of the museum field. In 1986, an assessment of the professional development needs of the field was undertaken, as well as a consideration of the latest teaching approaches in executive education. A new curriculum, introduced in 1987, emphasized management strategies and best practices from both the for-profit and nonprofit fields. New faculty members were recruited from the top ranks of executive education. At the same time, AMAA merged with the New York-based American Federation of Arts (AFA), and the AFA assumed administrative responsibility for MMI on behalf of the Getty. In 1992, MMI's administrative staff moved to the AFA's New York office.
From 1995 to 1997, another intensive look at the curriculum was undertaken. MMI staff surveyed the field, talked with alumni, and consulted with faculty members and other leaders in executive education. Because it was increasingly difficult to satisfy the needs of both mid-career and senior-level museum professionals with a single program, MMI was targeted for those with the greatest ability to influence change in their institutions, i.e., museum directors and senior executive team members. A new curriculum in a three-week format was offered in 1997. The Getty Leadership Institute for Museum Management was formed to administer MMI and in January 2000, the Institute became an in-house program of the Getty Trust. During this time MMI was still being held in Berkeley. At the end of 2003, MMI was renamed MLI: The Museum Leadership Institute, to better reflect the program's focus on leadership issues and its influence in the field. And in summer 2004, MLI was first offered at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. This new venue offered participants the opportunity to study at the Getty Center's dramatic hilltop campus, with areas for solitude and reflection as well as facilities and resources that encourage research and exchange. That same year also marked the inaugural offering of GLI's Museum Leaders: The Next Generation (NextGen) program for those deeper in the organization—mid-level staff identified by senior executives as having extraordinary potential. Since 2004, over 150 mid-level staff have participated in NextGen.
In 2003, GLI was integrated within the Getty Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the J. Paul Getty Trust. During 2008, the Foundation and GLI began to explore potential relationships with a variety of similarly missioned organizations, to reduce costs in a difficult economic climate. It rapidly became apparent that there were significant and exciting opportunities in moving to a new structure, particularly partnering with those that shared core values with GLI.