Deborah Emont Scott’s first visit to the Taft Museum of Art didn’t work out as planned.

It was the mid-1970s, and Scott was in graduate school at Oberlin College studying art history. She took a road trip to the Cincinnati Art Museum to do some research for her master’s thesis.

While she was in town, Scott decided she really ought to see the Taft, as well.

“The Taft has such a wonderful reputation,” she recalls. “I figured I had to see it before I went back to school.”

Alas, it was a Monday, and the Taft was closed.

“I just stared longingly at the portico and finally moved on,” Scott says. “It was incredibly disappointing. But I always knew that I would come back someday.”

Today, Scott has come back. But this time, she’s returned as the Taft’s director and CEO, just the sixth since the museum opened in 1932.

A couple of weeks before Scott stepped into her new position on Nov. 9, she visited Cincinnati to attend the museum board’s annual meeting. The staff hosted a luncheon in her honor.

It wasn’t a glitzy affair, but it was the first time that most of the museum’s employees had a chance to meet her. Scott was given a seat surrounded by some of the museum’s senior staff, but she didn’t stay there long. She grabbed a plate and started table-hopping.

Not a big deal, maybe, but everyone there remembered it.

“It was really, really refreshing,” says a junior staff member, who asked that her name not be used. “It just felt different.”

Don’t look for Scott to be a rebel, a person who will rock the institutional boat. She’s a collaborator, a person who knows the value of building alliances. Before coming to Cincinnati, she spent 26 years at Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the last 11 as chief curator.

Throughout the arts world, Scott is known for her reliability, her scholarship, her consistency — just the sort of qualities that were high on the Taft search committee’s list.

“Her résumé was extraordinary,” says Paul Chellgren, the Taft’s board chairman and head of the search committee. “And we were impressed that her references included the directors of the Guggenheim and the Walker.”

But meeting her was what sealed the deal.

“She’s a consummate professional,” Chellgren says. “She’s deliberate. She’s careful. And we all liked her maturity.”

There is no shortage of museum administrators looking to make their marks on the art world. Indeed, Chellgren received roughly 100 résumés from candidates he regarded as “serious.”

But most of them didn’t understand the Taft’s philosophy. Or, they viewed themselves as rising stars and would likely pop in for a few flashy years, then depart for another plum position on the way to the job they were really after in the first place.

That’s not what the Taft search committee had in mind. The Taft, you see, is an anomaly in the museum world.

“We are what we are,” Chellgren says. That means the museum has a balanced budget, a stable staff and a modestly sized physical facility. It also means the Taft isn’t looking to expand its facility or the collection.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for growth or for some new ways of looking at things.

In Cincinnati’s arts world, the Taft is regarded as a little gem, tucked away in a historic home on Pike Street, at the far eastern reaches of downtown.

It doesn’t have the edginess of the Contemporary Arts Center or the be-everything-to-everybody reputation of the sprawling Cincinnati Art Museum. It’s a miniature; a lovely institution with a small but distinguished collection.

And, while the Taft has done much to come out of what was once an insular shell, it’s still a place that has been all-too-easy for many people to forget about. It doesn’t brag or swagger. It is a quiet oasis in an arts world where institutions are desperate for attention.

That may be where Scott can mix things up. Not that she’s likely to imbue the Taft into a garish, look-at-me attitude. But there is a decidedly populist streak in her. She loves art, and she wants to expose as many people as possible to it.

Does that mean we’re likely to see the Taft booking large shows of the type we’d more naturally expect at the Cincinnati Art Museum? Probably not. But it does portend a Taft that is a more active player in the local arts community.

“The Taft is already an excellent institution,” Scott says. “I don’t plan to dismantle what’s already there. I have lots to learn, though. I have to get to know who our members are. I have to learn who comes to the museum, and — maybe even more important — who doesn’t come to the museum and why.

“But I’m going to have tremendous support in all of that. The staff is fantastic. The board is fantastic. And — this is amazing — they’ve got 90 docents, which is huge. And all of these people want the same thing; they want to reach out, diversify the audience and cultivate people from all walks of life. I think I’ll be in good company.”