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How are museums growing institutional resources? How are museums working with their communities? How are museums using their exhibitions and collections in new ways? Explore original articles by MANY staff about NYS museums. 

What's happening at your museum? Submit your museum news and we might feature you in our next This Month in NYS Museums newsletter!

Email meves@nysmuseums.org 

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  • May 17, 2022 1:35 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    The Museum Association of New York stands in solidarity with MANY Member Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission and shares the following statement from Executive Director Terry Alford regarding the May 14th tragedy in Buffalo, New York.


    You may write me down in history

    With your bitter, twisted lies,

    You may trod me in the very dirt

    But still, like dust, I’ll rise.


    Like so many of you, our hearts are very heavy today. Like the iconic Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor, which serves as the connector of the past, present, and future for those historic neighborhoods within and beyond the City of Buffalo, Jefferson Avenue is celebrated as a cultural beacon of African American life. Long considered the “spine” of the Black community, Jefferson Ave. has been a place where many socio-and political movements successfully began and flourished.


    Did you want to see me broken?

    Bowed head and lowered eyes?

    Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

    Weakened by my soulful cries?


    We must all stand steadfast and condemn the systemic and societal issues that led to this heinous act. We all must engage in honest discussions that unabashedly and unapologetically acknowledge the scourge of white supremacist hate groups that exists in every city, town, village, and hamlet across this nation and beyond. This terrible atrocity was committed by a weak, impressionable individual radicalized by a network of hate groups upon other people who look like me. However, we are not in the least defeated. We are a strong people emblematic of so many before us who despite the hardships and obstacles placed in their way simply because of the color of their skin, still possessed the resolve to rise above them all.

    We cannot begin to express the amount of grief and pain all of us continue to feel. The African American community in Buffalo has for generations been a close-knit one. Many of us are close to someone directly impacted by this violent murderous act. We cry with those families who lost loved ones, but they will not be defined as victims but celebrated as beautiful, inspiring people who loved their families and their community.


    You may shoot me with your words,

    You may cut me with your eyes,

    You may kill me with your hatefulness,

    But still, like air, I’ll rise.


     

    (Excerpts in italics from And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. Copyright 1978)


  • May 10, 2022 3:15 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Dear Friends, Members, and Colleagues,

    I am pleased to share the exciting news that A9710/S8934 “An act in relation to conducting a study of public and private museums in New York State” was reported out of the Assembly Economic Development Committee to the Assembly Ways and Means Committee earlier today.

    MANY extends our thanks to Assemblymember Didi Barrett D-108 and Assemblymember Harry Bronson D-138 for their work on this bill and their efforts in support of all of New York’s Museums. We also extend our thanks Senator Jeremy A. Cooney D-56 for introducing the bill in the Senate.

    With only nine days to go in the legislative session, your outreach could make a critical difference towards advancing the bill in the legislature. 

    We need you to reach out to your Assemblymembers and Senators today to ask them to sign on in support of the bill.

    Not sure who represents you in the Assembly? You can find your Assemblymember here.

    Need to find who represents you in the Senate? You can find your NYS Senator here.

    Click here to download a template that can help you write to your Assemblymember.

    Click here to download a template that can help you write to your Senator.

    Download the PDF, insert the name of your legislative representative and the name of your museum. The PDF also has room for your electronic signature. Please feel free to edit/adapt the language to your museum and your community.

    Thank you in advance for taking the time out of what I know is an incredibly busy day to reach out in support of this important bill that will help create an accurate and relevant picture of our state’s museums to inform policy making and grow public awareness of the missions, collections, audiences, and funding needs of New York State’s museums.


    Sincerely,

    Erika Sanger


  • April 27, 2022 10:43 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Letter from Erika Sanger and Brian Lee Whisenhunt

    We are pleased to share this annual report and express our sincerest gratitude to our members, donors, and sponsors who helped us find spaces and places to gather, create, and support each other’s work in 2021. Together, we faced the challenges of operating in both virtual and in-person environments and treasured the rare moments where we could pause, assess our work, and share our achievements. We are pleased by the progress we made this past year and honored by the new partnerships we forged that will help us shape a better future for museums and museum professionals. 

    In 2021, we supported positive changes in the field, offered information based on facts, and stopped at every possible juncture to ensure that we included the voices of indigenous and people of color in our decision making. We continue our pledge to help move New York’s museums past “cobbling things together” and “stretching limited resources” to a place where museums thrive financially, serve their communities holistically, and enthusiastically welcome visitors from all corners of our state, our nation, and our world. 

    MANY’s virtual programming helped us reach museum professionals from 37 states, the District of Columbia, and eight other nations. The number of social media followers grew by 30 percent, the redesigned newsletter helped us increase member engagement, and people clicked on the MANY job board almost 64,000 times. We welcomed 371 colleagues from every county in our state to in-person programming. The joyful sound of people laughing together for the first time in two years will forever echo in our ears. 

    In June of 2021, the board began to develop a new strategic plan that will guide MANY’s operations from 2022 to 2026. We closed the year in a positive financial position despite setbacks – we did not hold an annual conference and incurred increased program costs by limiting attendance and taking measures to maintain safety in the face of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, MANY had 679 members, a 5% increase from 2020. We raised $1.2M through six major grants that will allow us to directly impact the work of more than 400 museums by the end of June 2022. 

    State level advocacy efforts in 2021, led to Assemblymember Didi Barret (NY-106) introducing Assembly Bill Number A9710, “An act in relation to conducting a study of public and private museums in New York State.” The study will help inform public policy, increase financial support, and raise awareness of the importance of museums to our state’s communities and to the economy.

    We remain optimistic for the future of our museums and continue to pledge our work towards a more equitable and inclusive field. We look forward to working with our new board officers and new board members and thank departing board members who dedicated hundreds of hours in service to the field during their time on the MANY board. 

    We are eager to explore the ways we can work together to build a stronger, more sustainable and relevant museum community – a community where everyone’s voices are held up together.


    Sincerely,

    Brian Lee Whisenhunt, President, MANY Board of Directors


    Erika Sanger, Executive Director 


    Click here to read the 2021 Annual Report
  • April 26, 2022 9:45 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    MANY Elects The Rockwell Museum Executive Director Brian Lee Whisenhunt as Board President and Announces New and Returning Board Members

    Brian Lee Whisenhunt, Executive Director at The Rockwell Museum in Corning, NY has been elected MANY Board President

    The Museum Association of New York (MANY) is pleased to announce the election of Brian Lee Whisenhunt, Executive Director of The Rockwell Museum as Board President.  Whisenhunt joined MANY in April 2018 and has served as Program Chair and Vice President. He previously served on the board of the Mountain-Plains Museums Association and currently serves on the Museum Advisory Council of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute. 

    “Working for the betterment of my community, whether the city in which I live or the professional group with whom I work, is a value I hold dear,” said Whisenhunt. “The opportunity to serve the New York museum community as President of the Board of Directors of MANY is a charge I am thrilled to undertake and honored to perform. Working with Erika Sanger, the MANY staff and Board of Directors as we continue to address the evolving needs of New York’s museums; the ongoing challenges of the pandemic; and the work on diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion within the field.”  

    Whisenhunt worked in museum education for ten years before beginning his career as a museum director at the Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana where he oversaw their successful accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums. Whisenhunt has also served as the Executive Director of the Museum of the Southwest in Midland, Texas where he led a $5.4 million renovation. He joined The Rockwell Museum in January 2017.

    “I am looking forward to working with Brian to implement MANY’s new strategic plan, reshape board engagement, and plan for the next generation of board members,” said MANY Executive Director Erika Sanger. “We learned so much about the value of our museum association during the pandemic and under Brian’s leadership we will be able to take the products of those lessons to advance the organization and better serve museum professionals across the state.” 

    Whisenhunt is joined by a new Executive Committee with co-Vice Presidents Bruce Whitmarsh (Chemung County Executive Director and previous MANY Board Treasurer) and Dr. Georgette Grier-Key (Eastville Community Historical Society Executive Director and Chief Curator), Treasurer Marissa Wigglesworth (Buffalo Museum of Science, Tifft Nature Preserve President and CEO), and Secretary Diane Shewchuk (Albany Institute of History & Art Curator). 

    MANY is also pleased to announce the election of six new board members and the re-election of four to their second terms. 

    Newly elected board members are Victoria Reisman, Beth Ann Balalaos, Joshua Ruff, Samantha Hall-Saladino, Nick Martinez, and Dr. Callie Johnson. Alexandra Drakakis, Diane Shewchuk, Marissa Wigglesworth, and Becky Wehle were re-elected to their second terms, bringing the total number of board members to 25. MANY Board members serve three-year terms and represent museums of all disciplines, budget sizes, and geographic locations as well as partner industries in New York State. 

    “I’m ecstatic about the skills, perspectives, experience and talent the new members of MANY’s Board of Directors brings to our association,” said Whisenhunt. “As we continue to work through the current challenges and opportunities presented to our organization as well as the institutions we serve, I appreciate the willingness of our new Directors to contribute to the success of the museum community of New York.”

    Victoria Reisman is a curator at the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation’s Bureau of Historic Sites based at Peebles Island Resource Center. She previously served as the curator of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, where she produced 21 special exhibitions, developed a nationwide juried photography exhibition program, and created a grant-funded gallery space to highlight trophies from the collection. Her museum work experience includes internships in the Learning Services department at the Australian Museum (Sydney, Australia), the curatorial department at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia), and the Lehigh University Art Galleries. Reisman is a graduate of Lehigh University (Bachelor of Arts, Design Arts) and the University of Sydney (Master of Museum Studies).

    Beth Ann Balalaos is the Access and Inclusion Manager at the Long Island Children’s Museum (LICM). Beth Ann joined the Education Department in 2014 as an intern and began managing the LICM’s IMLS funded "LICM4all" accessibility program in 2016. In this role, she oversees all aspects of accessibility and inclusivity within LICM such as Friendly Hours, Sensory Friendly Performances, the LICM4all App, staff sensitivity training, adapting and creating programming, ADA Compliance, and exhibit modifications. Beth Ann is part of LICM’s Cultural Competence Learning Institute Committee. She has developed and facilitated LICM’s first programming that focuses on the LGBTQIA Community and established its Diversity, Equity, Access and Inclusion Team.

    Joshua Ruff is the Deputy Director and Director of Collections & Interpretation at the Long Island Museum of American Art, History & Carriages, in Stony Brook. He is a graduate of Syracuse University with BAs in Broadcast Journalism and in History, and Stony Brook University with a MA in History. He has worked at the Long Island Museum for 24 years including as Curator of its History and Carriage Collections. He has curated more than 60 exhibitions, including, most recently, Fire & Form: New Directions in Glass (2021). In addition to co-authoring several books and exhibition catalogs, his articles have appeared in publications including Magazine Antiques; American Art Review; New York Archives Magazine; American History magazine.

    Samantha Hall-Saladino is the Executive Director of the Fulton County Historical Society in Gloversville and serves as the Fulton County Historian. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in History and English from Russell Sage College and a Masters in Museum Studies from the University of New Hampshire. Over the past decade, Samantha has worked with museums across the Capital Region and along the seacoast of New Hampshire, including Strawbery Banke, the American Independence Museum, and the Albany County Historical Association at Ten Broeck Mansion. She serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the Association of Public Historians of NYS (APHNYS) and the Sacandaga Valley Arts Network (SVAN). 

    Nick Martinez is an educator, producer, podcaster, and activist, from New York City with over a decade of experience working at the intersections of museum education, youth, and workforce development, mentoring, and science. His passion is to engage and support BIPOC to pursue interests and careers in science and develop strategies for the promotion of diversity, equity, and inclusion in traditionally non-inclusive spaces. He began his museum career as an undergraduate intern at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in the Museum Education and Employment Program, designing and leading tours of museum halls for visiting school and camp groups. After graduation, he returned to AMNH as an internship supervisor, helping to supervise the new cohort of college interns, and was later hired to teach genetics, human evolution, and neuroscience in the Hall of Human Origins Teaching Lab, first as a Lab Facilitator and then in a full-time role as the Coordinator of the Lab. He is currently Senior Manager of Youth Initiatives and manages Middle and High School programs, Internship experiences, and Alumni Engagement. He also leads recruitment, community-building, and partnership efforts to increase diversity and promote equity and inclusivity across Youth Programs at the AMNH.

    Dr. Callie Johnson is an award-winning marketing, communications, and nonprofit leadership executive. At the Albright-Knox, Dr. Johnson serves in an executive role stewarding the rebranding of America’s sixth oldest art museum, which is in the process of becoming the Buffalo AKG Art Museum. Dr. Johnson is the former Executive Vice President of Marketing for Girl Scouts of Western New York and a current member of the Forbes Communications Council, an invitation-only community for executives in communications, marketing, and public relations. She is the winner of two Buffalo Business First awards—40 Under 40 and 30 Under 30 —for making a difference both on the job and in the community.  She is a Buffalo Niagara 360 Spotlight Professional for her career success and her commitment to strengthening the Buffalo Niagara region. She was awarded three Girl Scouts of Western New York Finance Certificates of Accomplishment and a Commitment to Excellence Award.

    Diane Shewchuk was elected Board Secretary. Previous Board Secretary Becky Wehle (Genesee Country Village & Museum President and CEO) will Chair the Membership and Fundraising Committee. Emily Martz (Great Camp Sagamore Executive Director) will Chair the Advocacy Committee and Clifford Laube (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum Public Program Specialist) and Natalie Stetson (Erie Canal Museum Executive Director) will co-chair the Program Committee. Eliza Kozlowski (George Eastman Museum Senior Director of Marketing & Engagement) will continue to Chair the Marketing Committee.

    Suzanne LeBlanc (Long Island Children’s Museum President) will serve on the board for a one-year term as Past President.


    See below for the full list of MANY board members.


    Beth Ann Balalaos, Access and Inclusion Manager, Long Island Children’s Museum

    Rob Cassetti, Creative Strategist, Luckystone Partners 

    Mariano Desmarás, Creative Director, Museum Environments 

    Alexandra Drakakis, Chief Acquisitions Curator, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

    Michael Galban, Historic Site Manager and Curator, Seneca Art & Culture Center, Ganondagan State Historic Site 

    Georgette Grier-Key, Executive Director and Chief Curator, Eastville Community Historical Society 

    Samantha Hall-Saladino, Executive Director, Fulton County Historical Society

    Peter Hyde, Owner, Peter Hyde Design 

    Dr. Callie Johnson, Director of Communications & Community Engagement, Albright-Knox Gallery (Buffalo AKG Art Museum)

    Theodore K. Johnson, President & CEO, Hadley Exhibits Inc.

    Eliza Kozlowski, Senior Director of Marketing & Engagement, George Eastman Museum 

    Clifford Laube Ex Officio, Public Program Specialist, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

    Denise Lewis, Chief Financial Officer, Museum of Arts and Design

    Suzanne LeBlancPast President, President, Long Island Children’s Museum

    Nick Martinez, Senior Manager of Youth Initiatives, American Museum of Natural History

    Emily Martz, Executive Director, Great Camp Sagamore 

    Melinda McTaggart, Director, Schoharie County Historical Society and Old Stone Fort Museum

    Victoria Reisman, Curator, Bureau of Historic Sites, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

    Joshua Ruff, Deputy Director/ Director of Collections & InterpretationLong Island Museum of American Art, History & Carriages

    Diane Shewchuk, Curator, Albany Institute of History & Art  

    Natalie Stetson, Executive Director, Erie Canal Museum 

    Becky Wehle, President/CEO, Genesee Country Village & Museum 

    Brian Lee Whisenhunt, Executive Director, The Rockwell Museum 

    Bruce Whitmarsh, Executive Director, The Chemung County Historical Society 

    Marisa Wigglesworth, President and CEO, Buffalo Museum of Science, Tifft Nature Preserve 


    # # #


    About MANY 

    The Museum Association of New York helps to shape a better future for museums and museum professionals by uplifting best practices and building organizational capacity through advocacy, training, and networking opportunities. Visit www.nysmuseums.org and follow MANY on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn @nysmuseums 


  • March 30, 2022 1:21 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Suzanne LeBlanc has served as the Museum Association of New York’s Board President since 2018 and has spent her career working in children’s museums.  Prior to joining the Long Island Children’s Museum (LICM) in 2005, she served in leadership positions at children’s museums in Boston, Brooklyn, and Las Vegas. 

    Most recently, LeBlanc has been an award recipient of the Premier Business Women of Long Island and Nassau County’s Women of Distinction. She was also chose as on e of the “50 Most Influential Businesswomen of Long Island” by Long Island Business News. She’s been a member of the Community Advisory Council of the Junior League and the Early Years Institute Advisory Committee. In November 2012, she received the National Medal for Museum and Library Service at the White House on behalf of the Long Island Children’s Museum for “Together to Kindergarten” a community-focused initiative for Spanish and Haitian-speaking immigrant families.   

    LICM recently earned accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums; one of only 16 children’s museums in the country to achieve this recognition and the only CHildren’s Museum in NY currently accredited.

    LeBlanc earned her MA in Counseling Psychology from Lesley College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a BS in Journalism and Photojournalism from the School of Public Communication at Boston University. Her work has been published in museum journals, she consults, teaches, and presents at conferences. 

    As Suzanne concludes her tenure as President of MANY’s Board of Directors, we spoke with her to learn more about how she entered the museum field, what excites her about museum work, and more.

    Long Island Children’s Museum President Suzanne LeBlanc celebrates accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums

    MANY: What was your first museum experience? 

    Suzanne LeBlanc: When I was in elementary school, the only museum field trip that we went on was to the Christian Science Center in Boston. Their museum had a mapparium where you crossed the room on a suspended walkway with a backlit globe all around you, and I think that's where I got my interest in the whole museum world. It was my first exposure to museums. 

    What was the museum experience that made you think about entering the profession?

    As of this past January, I’ve worked in the field for 48 years. I went to Boston University and majored in Communications and Photo Journalism. I saw Michael Spock, the son of Dr. Benjamin Spock and one of the first creators of interactivity in children’s museums, being interviewed on one of the television morning news programs. He was also the director of the Boston Children’s Museum. I found it interesting and I had never been to a children’s museum so I visited and ended up doing a photo essay on the museum. I heard that the museum offered a three-month internship, I applied, was accepted and after I graduated, I interned at the Boston’s Children’s Museum. At the time, the museum was just a Victorian house, it was small but had a large reputation. It’s the second oldest children’s museum in the world, founded in 1913 by the Science Teachers’ Bureau. 

    There were a couple of people there who really inspired me and who saw something in me and wanted me to stay, so I stayed. I never studied museums and I never intended on working in museums or even imagined it, but it’s something that I love. 

    I worked there for fifteen years, and while I was there I debated whether or not I wanted to be a director. I learned about the then Museum Management Institute that the J. Paul Getty Trust funded  (it used to be a month-long residency program), applied and was accepted. It ended up being very critical to my early museum career because I was exploring what I wanted to do. It was taught by business professors from Harvard and Stanford, but every week they had a nationally-known museum professional in residence who would direct the conversations towards museums and host office hours. This was really the only formal training for museums that I had. Everything else I learned through working my way up from my internship position. 

    I left Boston to take the position of Associate Director at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum and when their director left for eight weeks, I was named Acting Director. Then I was recruited to go to the Lied Discovery Children’s Museum in Las Vegas (now DISCOVERY Children’s Museum) as the Executive Director and following that, was recruited to come to the Long Island Children’s Museum. That’s my trajectory and it’s been a fun and exciting one. I’ve probably done almost every museum job. 

    Can you tell us about where you grew up? What was it like growing up there?

    I grew up in Salem Massachusetts which is about 25 miles north of Boston, and had a large French Canadian population. It’s on the water and very historic. I went to Catholic schools through high school and grew up with eight brothers and sisters as the oldest. When I was fourteen we had to move into a larger house, but really couldn’t afford it so we also rented rooms to eight college students. People were everywhere! Truthfully, growing up there as a kid I mostly knew French Canadian Catholics and reading was sort of my way out into the world. At the time, Salem State College was a one-building teacher’s college and my father used to say that one of these days that place is going to take over. Today it’s Salem University. And of course, there is the history that’s associated with the Salem Witch Trials. When I was growing up it wasn’t that big of a deal but now every Halloween about 250,000 people from all over the world come.  It’s a major event with  historic, touristy and Wiccan themes. It’s a very different place now then when I was growing up but it’s more aligned with the places I like to live now – more culturally diverse, more arts activities, and more variety of restaurants.  

    In high school, I would visit the Peabody Essex Museum which was probably my first traditional museum visit. I was interested in their Japanese collections and when I was an intern at the Boston Children’s Museum, my major area of focus was their Japanese Home. My interest in cultures developed there.

    Would your 18-year old self imagine that you would be where you are today?

    At first, I thought, absolutely not. I grew up in a family that varied from poor to working class, and hardly anyone in my family went to college. I loved school and reading and I was intent on going to college. I had worked two summers at a factory to save money and at the time I wasn’t thinking of college as leading to a profession, but I was just excited about the opportunity to learn more.  I certainly never thought that I would end up as a museum director which now feels like it really fits me, but wasn’t something my 18-year-old self would imagine.

    What other experiences in your career have you found most helpful for your role now?

    Professionally what’s helped me was early on in my career at the Boston Children’s Museum, I was given responsibilities like budgeting and supervising. I found these responsibilities extremely helpful. At the Brooklyn Children's Museum, as their Associate Director, I worked with their board, attending meetings, and that introduced me to the director and board relationship. 

    From my education, I have a communications degree which I've found helpful as I work with stakeholders, board, staff, and funders. I also have a masters degree in counseling psychology which broadened my people skills. I’ve worked at fairly large museums with many staff members so that degree helped in all the critical interpersonal skills.

    In doing so many jobs, I really understand how hard people work which I think is helpful from entry-level to the very top. I think a lot of directors come into the field as directors, but I’ve worked my way up and I try to tell new staff that story.

    I adopted my daughter Tara when she was 16 and volunteering at the Children’s Museum in Las Vegas when I worked there.  She is now 42, a speech pathologist and living in Wales with her wife Aimee and adopted daughter Aimee.  It is the most amazing and wonderful gift from my career. 

    What are some of your biggest motivations to do what you do? What gets you excited about your role at the Long Island Children’s Museum?

    I love working for an institution. In terms of my role, I like thinking about the big vision and helping to bring it about even if it takes a long time. I really love seeing staff grow and being a mentor. I’ve had some amazing mentors and I love mentoring others. I look at our museum as not just a learning place for visitors, but for staff as well, so I try to provide as many opportunities for that and when I can do that, it really feels like I am accomplishing something important. 

    Our community initiatives are highlights of my work. One program that gets me very excited is a program called “Together to Kindergarten” for immigrant families with children about to enter kindergarten. We recently hired someone who is now at Hofstra University who was in our program maybe thirteen years ago and she is now coming to work at the museum and will work in that program. She wrote a testimonial on how important that experience had been for her and also for her family who went on and supported her love of education. That’s the kind of thing that makes you cry, seeing that impact because sometimes you don’t get to see that as people come and go in a museum. 

    I’ve gotten really good at helping to gain national recognition for the museums I’ve worked at.  I think that came from when I went to the DISCOVERY Children’s Museum in Las Vegas there were some comments from my colleagues at the time asking are there really museums in Las Vegas? So I thought that I’m going to put this museum on the map and worked hard to get state and federal funding including funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). I did the same thing for the Long Island Children’s Museum including the National Medal for Museum and Library Services, which is the highest honor for libraries and museums that are serving their communities in exceptional ways. [The Long Island Children’s Museum received the National Medal in 2012 at the White House for “Together to Kindergarten” a community-focused initiative for Spanish and Haitian-speaking immigrant families.]


    Accepting the National Medal for Museum and Library Services at the White House

    What are some of your goals for the museum?

    One major goal that I’ve tried to accomplish and that we keep getting stopped by financial downturns is a capital campaign expansion into the airplane hangar building next door to us. The first delay was during the global financial crisis in 2008 and then there was another setback during Hurricane Sandy. Then I thought the third time's the charm and we were ready to go with architects, exhibits were planned, the county was ready with funding, and then the pandemic hit. 

    I’m starting to pick it back up again, and in the meantime we’ve added new exhibitions and redesigned others, but part of this campaign was to do a number of new major exhibitions. We plan to do an exhibition about immigration on Long Island. We resarched this five years ago as part of our strategic plan and we found that 18% of people living on Long Island were immigrants. 

    For the expansion into Hangar Five (an old airplane hangar adjacent to the LI Children’s Museum), we were going to move our non-public spaces there to create more room for exhibitions in our current facility.  But getting new exhibitions is exciting and this capital campaign expansion is still something I am sure we will accomplish.

    Can you describe a favorite day on the job?

    I have a lot of meetings. Sometimes they’re on the more tedious side and sometimes they’re more productive, where we’re solving a problem or ideas are flowing. So a really good meeting where we’re getting someplace and then having time to really think it through and follow up on it is especially good. 

    I also like to take the time to walk around on the museum floor, especially after a bad day to be reminded of what impact you’re having and how much fun people are having. 

    I like noise around me, maybe because I grew up in a large family and had a lot of people around me, so even though I’m good at business, I don’t think that I would do really well in a regular corporate-like environment. I like having people around me with creative ideas.


    Add-a-Dot Art Installation at the LICM in 2018 –a collaborative art-making experience

    What is your superpower?

    We’ve been getting IMLS funding every year for years and one of the things that I like to do and that I’m good at is listening to people in meetings and understanding what people want to do and thinking about what will move this museum forward with IMLS funding or other funding sources. And then conceptualizing that idea, bring people together to make it happen. I usually am not part of projects from start to end, but I’m okay with that. I’ll stay on in an advisory capacity but I don’t have to take the project from beginning to end. I do think that’s important in this role. You have to be okay with understanding your role as an Executive Director.

    My first thought was my people skills, working with staff and board members and outside stakeholders.  This leads to my abilities in creating a work culture that people thrive in.

    During the pandemic, one of my staff told me that I am good in a crisis. I do think I’ve been good at navigating crisis situations for this  time and previous ones as well.

    It was interesting when the pandemic started because we were in the middle of accreditation with the American Alliance of Museums and I decided to keep going. We had already put a lot of time into it, we’d worked on it for about a year and a half. We accomplished being accredited for the first time and it ended up being a nice team-building project and something very thrilling to accomplish in the midst of the pandemic.

    Do you have any key mentors or someone who has deeply influenced you? Can you tell me about them?

    My most important mentor is Elaine Heumann Gurian who was the Director of the Visitor Center at the Boston Children’s Museum. I really believe that if I hadn’t worked for her, I wouldn’t have stayed in museum work. She was incredibly inspiring and I would hang on her every word. I wanted to work with her. So I stayed after my internship. At first, I was her executive assistant and truthfully I had no skills in that area, but I taught myself how to type and I would write her letters. She would say “write them how I would talk but make sure they are correct”. I would do budget work, lead meetings, I did a lot and she trusted me. She’s always been supportive of me and my career. She went on to work at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian and   the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Now she does international consulting. 

    Michael Spock was inspirational to me in a different way. He was an example of always having where you wanted to go on your radar even if it was going to take you a long time to get there and he had the patience to stay with it and get it to happen. Moving the museum [Boston Children’s Museum] from a Victorian house to the waterfront was his goal and took a long time.

    Elaine and Michael had very different styles and approaches but I think of them both as my mentors. 

    There is another person who wasn’t necessarily a mentor but when I was trying to decide whether or not I wanted to be a director, her words inspired me. She was Bernice Johnson Reagon, who was a curator at the Smithsonian and also the founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock, an acapella group comprised of Black women. 

    When Elaine went to the Smithsonian, she knew that I was shy about speaking in public, but also knew that I needed to develop that skill to move forward. She told people at the Smithsonian to get me as a speaker. Bernice Johnson Reagan asked me to speak at one of their conferences. and when she was introducing the conference she said if you want to make a difference in the world, get yourself in a position of power. That stuck with me and it helped lead to my decision to become a director, but it also stuck with me in that I was meeting   a lot of young people of color who felt like they didn’t have enough say in community outreach roles, so I would ask if they ever thought about being a director and encouraged them to think about it. I’ve tried throughout my career to try to be a mentor to others, as others have to me.  

    What have you appreciated the most during your time as MANY Board President?

    I joined MANY before it merged with MuseumWise. At the time, I didn’t know much about  the rest of the state. By joining MANY and being in a leadership role I’ve gotten to learn  about the many different museums across the state, and worked with a wonderful variety of museum professionals.  It’s something I’ve loved.

    It’s been rewarding to see MANY grow from the beginning and be a true service to the field, especially during the pandemic. It’s great to be part of an organization that has helped so many museums.


  • March 30, 2022 12:56 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Dear Members, Friends, and Supporters,

    If I had a personal FAQ sheet, “How many museums are there in New York State?” would be at the top of the list. Believe it or not, it is a hard question to answer. MANY uses 1,400 as an estimate, but I have learned that to be an effective advocate and to counter inaccurate, commonly held beliefs and perceptions, we need to use precise and relevant data about who we are, who we serve, and what funds make our work possible.

    The second FAQ would be, “What is next in MANY’s statewide advocacy agenda?” I am pleased to announce that on March 28th Assembly Member Didi Barrett (District 106 Dutchess/Columbia) introduced Assembly Bill Number A9710, “An act in relation to conducting a study of public and private museums in New York State.” The intent of the study is to identify and collect data about all museums in the state including information on size, hours of operation, visitor statistics, funding sources and amounts, and the subjects of the museums' collections. It will provide information and recommendations to the legislature about the adequacy of public and private funding sources.

    The proposed study will inform policymaking and improve public awareness of the museums throughout our State. It will help identify the benefits, shortfalls, and consequences of the different sources of support for museums. The study will recommend systems of support to best ensure equitable distributions of funds regardless of discipline, budget size, or location.

    AM Barrett’s Sponsor Memo recognizes how museums are inextricably linked to New York State’s identity, economy, and history, that too many of us operate hand to mouth, struggle to pay our bills, and wonder each year how we will keep our doors open.

    The memo also recognizes that we need assistance to ensure the protection of our collections and to strengthen our roles as educators and community anchors.  

    Your responses to our State of NYS Museums and COVID-19 impact surveys helped us get attention and support for museum relief funding over the past two years. Now we need you to reach out to your Assembly Members and ask them to sponsor Assembly Bill Number A9710, “An act in relation to conducting a study of public and private museums in New York State.” Please let them know how important this new legislation is to the future of New York’s museums and ask them to email Jacob Scofield, jscofield@nyassembly.gov and indicate their preference to sponsor.

    Not sure who represents you? Click here to find your Assembly Member. 

    I know your days are as jam-packed as mine and I extend my thanks in advance for making the time to reach out to your legislative representative and ask for their support of this bill.

     

    Sincerely,

     

    Erika Sanger

  • March 16, 2022 5:28 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Ten Awards of Merit will be presented at the 2022 Annual Conference in Corning, NY

    Troy, NY — The Museum Association of New York (MANY) is pleased to announce the 2022 Awards of Merit recipients. Awards of Merit will be presented as part of the 2022 Annual Conference Envisioning Our Museums for the Seventh Generation at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY on Monday, April 11 at 12 PM.

    Awards of Merit recognize outstanding and innovative programs, staff and volunteers who have enriched New York State museums with new and remarkable projects. This year, the review committee reviewed over 50 nominations and awarded ten recipients in six categories. 

    The Anne Ackerson Innovation in Leadership Award recognizes a board member or staff leader that saw their organization through a critical challenge or significant opportunity in a creative, effective manner. This year, Brenda Simmons, Founder and Executive Director of the Southampton African American Museum, recieves this year’s most prestigious award. “Brenda is truly a force of nature who has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to inclusion and the African American community on the East End of Long Island,” said Assemblymember Fred W. Thiele. Members of the review committee noted her leadership and tireless work makes her a worthy recipient of the Anne Ackerson Innovation in Leadership Award and is an inspiration to the museum field.  

    The Award of Merit for Individual Achievement recognizes devoted staff or volunteers who are instrumental in moving their organizations forward over a sustained period. This year, the Individual Achievement was awarded to Melissa Dunlap for her incredible 30 year career as Curator and Executive Director of the Niagara County Historical Society. Over the course of her 30 year career, Dunlap increased the number of permanent staff, increased the historical society’s operating budget, reorganized the archives, increased school tours, led two major capital campaigns, relocated the historical society–including building a new gallery space and redesigning exhibition spaces. The committee applauded her dedication and leadership that supported and grew the Niagara County Historical Society.

    The Rising Star Award recognizes a museum professional who is under the age of 35 and currently employed at a cultural institution. The Rising Star displays creative thinking and inspired institutional change. This years’ RIsing Star is Mary Tsaltas-Ottomanelli, Special Programs & Engagement Manager at the Fraunces Tavern Museum. Mary’s investigation into visitor interests, her detailed research, and the stories she chooses to tell have pushed the Museum to collectively reexamine how they interpret their collection and to think strategically about the stories the Museum chooses to tell. Her work inspired others to share the lesser-known stories found in the Museum’s collection and she is a champion for diverse narratives.

    The Excellence in Design Award recognizes an exhibition produced by a cultural institution that articulates content through engaging design and creates a satisfying visitor experience. This year, the committee awarded the Museum of Arts and Design’s Story Makers: Burke Prize 2021, an interactive exhibition that highlights 16 finalists and winners of the Museum's Burke Prize, which honors excellence in contemporary craft. The review committee was impressed by the multimedia interactive website and how this reimagines the exhibition experience for a digital audience.

    The Innovation in Collections Access Award recognizes exemplary projects that broaden access, preserve, and catalog museum and heritage organization collections. This year the committee recognizes Digital Carpet Restoration for Historic House Access at Frederic Church’s Olana. This project sought a creative solution to the restoration and preservation of the rugs owned and used by the Church family. Olana staff utilized high-resolution photography and digital printing to produce highly accurate reproductions of historic flooring and carpeting materials printed on a rubber-backed material that provides a protective layer against visitor traffic. The review committee was impressed by the innovative use of technology to offer authentic visitor experiences and promote long-term conservation of collection assets. Olana State Historic Site is one of the first instiutitions in the United States to use this technology alongside Mount Vernon and Geroge Mason’s Gunston Hall. 

    The Engaging Communities Award recognizes organizations that use creative methods to engage its community and build new audiences. Projects can include collections interpretation, exhibitions, lecture series, educational or public programs, focus groups, strategic planning, or other community engagement efforts. This award is given to organizations based on the size operating budget.

    Volunteer- $100,000

    Standing on their Shoulders: 101 Years of Voting and Still Marching for Women’s Rights – Historical Society of Woodstock

    Based on the campaigns of two early US women’s rights workers as documented by their Woodstock-related descendants, this was the final exhibition in the Historical Society’s yearlong women’s rights centennial series “Standing on their Shoulders,” a project made possible by a grant from Humanities New York with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This exhibition included early 20th century photographs and artifacts with interactive videos and music. It highlighted the social justice work of Elisabeth Freeman (1876-1942) and Edna Kearns (1882-1934) whose activism and use of horse-drawn wagons as campaign plaforms inspired generations. 

    $100,000-$500,000

    A Visual Dialogue on Environmental Issues –Long Island Explorium

    Long Island Explorium partnered with Stony Brook University’s Department of Art students to curate a digital art exhibition “A Visual Dialogue on Environmental Issues.” This exhibition focused on the balance of local community needs fueled with artistic insight on environmental justice. It also encouraged innovative multi-disciplinary artistic exploration by individual artists that expressed how the arts and new media can propose solutions to environmental issues and create alternatives that support sustainability and climate justice, fostering cooperation and an exchange of ideas.

    $500,000-$1,000,000

    Jupiter Hammon Project –Preservation Long Island

    The Jupiter Hammon Project is a major, long-term initiative focused on developing a more relevant and equitable interpretation of the life, literature, and world of Jupiter Hammon (1711- ca. 1806) and the other individuals enslaved at Joseph Lloyd Manor, one of Presevation Long Island’s four historic properties. While enslaved at the Manor, Jupiter Hammon wrote powerfully about the social and moral conflicts slavery raised in the newly formed United States, becoming one of our country’s earliest published Black authors. Preservation Long Island hosted three public roundtable discussions over Zoom with nearly 700 total attendees that brought together scholars and professionals to explore the legacy of slavery on Long Island via the life and work of Jupiter Hammon. The public’s response to the scholarly information presented in the roundtables will shape the interpretation of Jupiter Hammon’s story. 

    $1,000,000-$5,000,000

    Tomashi Jackson: The Land Claim – Parrish Art Museum

    Tomashi Jackson is a multidisciplinary artist working across painting, textiles, sculpture, and video to place formal and material investigations in dialogue with recent histories of displacement and disenfranchisement of people of color, resulting in formalist compositions of exuberant color, bold geometries, and intricate layerings of material. In 2021, Jackson was invited by the Parrish Art Museum as part of their annual project series for artists to consider the entire Museum as a site for workers that transcend disciplinary boundaries, encouraging new ways to experience art, architecture, landscape, and community. Tomashi Jackson: The Land Claim focused on the historic and contemporary lived experiences of Indigenous, Black, and Latinx families on the East End of Long Island, and how issues of housing, transportation, livelihood, migration, and agriculture link these communities. 

    Over $5,000,000

    GATHER: Conversations led by Black & Indigenous Changemakers – Guild Hall of East Hampton

    Devised specifically for community leaders, services workers, teachers, and developers, GATHER: Conversations led by Black & Indigenous Changemakers platforms the voices and experiences of BIPOC scholars, artists, and leaders, providing both lessons on our past histories and strategies and examples of how to progress forward together. The July 2021 GATHER series was programmed in tandem with the Guild Hall exhibition, “Alexis Rockman: Shipwrecks, platforming indigenous experiences, traditions, and histories with our waterways and systems.” The four events were led by Jeremy Dennis, artist and tribal member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, Anthony Madonna, Guild Hall’s Patti Kenner Senior Associate for Learning and Public Engagement, and a rotating panel of historians, artists, and/or leaders of the Hamptons, including Roddy Smith, Andrina Wekontash Smith, Tecumseh Ceaser, Chief Harry Wallace, Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, Donnamarie Barnes, and Skip Finley.

     

    The Award Ceremony will take place at 12 PM on Monday, April 11 at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY. Photo opportunities will be available. For further information please contact meves@nysmuseums.org or 518-273-3400.

  • March 07, 2022 5:11 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)


    The Museum Association of New York (MANY) is pleased to announce that Executive Director Erika Sanger was awarded an Advocacy Leadership Award from the American Alliance of Museums during Museums Advocacy Day 2022. These awards are presented to advocates who have demonstrated exemplary leadership in their advocacy for the museum field.

    “[Erika’s] tireless work to represent New York museums at all levels of government, cultivating deep and meaningful relationships with legislators, is a true model for the museum field,” said Laura Lott, President & CEO for the American Alliance of Museums. Lott cited Sanger’s years of capitalizing on opportunities to speak up for museums. She is a trusted resource and a highly knowledgeable representative of the New York museum community. Her advocacy work throughout the pandemic helped museums receive $3 billion in federal relief funding over two years that saved jobs, programs, and museums from closure. 

    “Erika Sanger brings a wonderful passion and commitment to leading and representing New York State museums at all levels of government, working tirelessly to cultivate deep and meaningful relationships with legislators. We applaud Erika’s proactive leadership to ensure that New York museums are seen and heard, and in supporting the large and diverse Museums Advocacy Day delegation from New York.”

    “Congratulations to Erika Sanger on her Advocacy Leadership Award! I applaud her tireless work in advocacy of museums in New York and across the country,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer. “We thank her for her dedication to strengthening and protecting museums which are vital pillars of cultural strength and community.”

    “New York’s museums are world-class cultural institutions, attracting visitors from around the world, providing vital educational programming, and serving as cornerstones of their communities,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “In the face of the many challenges museums have faced throughout the pandemic, Erika Sanger has worked tirelessly to advocate on their behalf. I congratulate her on this well-deserved award and look forward to continuing to work with her, the Museum Association of New York, and the American Alliance of Museums to ensure that our state and nation’s museums have the resources they need to thrive.”

    “I want to offer my congratulations to MANY’s Executive Director Erika Sanger, who has been awarded an Advocacy Leadership Award from the American Alliance of Museums,” said Rep. Antonio Delgado (NY-19). “Erika's tireless advocacy to support the arts and keep museums funded enriches our communities and helps ensure that these museums may be enjoyed by folks for years to come. I look forward to continuing this work alongside Erika and other advocates at MANY and AAM to support our museums and the local arts.”

    “I am honored to be recognized for my advocacy work on behalf of all of our museums. Museums are places where people share cultural experiences that define our communities, our state, and our nation,” said Sanger. “These valuable economic contributors, community anchors, and education partners are struggling to find stability in the wake of the pandemic. The Museum Association of New York is working hard to amplify the contributions they make to our communities and their need for state and federal financial support.” 

    MANY Executive Director Erika Sanger with Congressman Antonio Delgado (NY-19) and Hudson River Maritime Museum Executive Director Lisa Cline at the Smithsonian Museum on Main Street Water/Ways traveling exhibition in 2019

    About Erika Sanger

    Erika Sanger joined the Museum Association of New York in 2016. She is the leading ambassador and advocate for museums and cultural institutions in New York State. Sanger is recognized as an innovative professional who leads projects from vision to funding, from implementation to evaluation, and from community engagement to fiscal accountability. She is a highly effective administrator, an inspiring educator, and an engaging speaker. Her expertise in the interpretation of material culture is complemented by a commitment to build public engagement in the diversity of our shared histories. 

    Sanger gained her extensive experience in museums through positions held at renowned institutions including the International Center of Photography, the Jewish Museum, the New-York Historical Society, the Brooklyn Museum, the Albany Institute of History & Art, and the Asheville Art Museum in Asheville, NC. She served as Director of Development at Penland School of Crafts in Western North Carolina, where she participated in the design and implementation of campaigns for capital and endowment funds. Programs produced under her direction have received funding from state and federal agencies, including the Institute for Museum and Library Services and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities.

    Sanger holds a B.F.A. from Clark University, in Worcester, MA, and an M.A. from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.


    About MANY

    The Museum Association of New York helps to shape a better future for museums and museum professionals by uplifting best practices and building organizational capacity through advocacy, training, and networking opportunities. Visit www.nysmuseums.org and follow MANY on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn @nysmuseums 

     

    About the American Alliance of Museums

    The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) is the only organization representing the entire museum field, from art and history museums to science centers and zoos. Since 1906, AAM has been championing museums through advocacy and providing museum professionals with the resources, knowledge, inspiration, and connections they need to move the field forward. AAM’s Alliance of 35,000 museums and museum professionals seeks to better our communities, and our world, through collaborative human-centered experiences, education, and connection to histories, cultures, the natural world, and one another. For more information, visit www.aam-us.org.


  • February 28, 2022 8:20 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Brian Lee Whisenhunt has worked in art education and museums for more than twenty years and more than anything enjoys connecting people with art. He served as the Director of Education at the Wichita Art Museum in Kansas and was the inaugural manager of public programs for the Blanton Museum of Art in Texas when it opened in 2006. He then became the Executive Director of the Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana where he oversaw their successful reaccreditation by the American Alliance of Museums, and then the Executive Director of the Museum of the Southwest in Midland, Texas where he led a $5.4M renovation and the celebration of its 50th anniversary. 

    Whisenhunt joined The Rockwell Museum in Corning in January 2017. Since then, he has been diversifying the collection to reflect the museum’s new focus on art about the American experience while working to increase overall attendance to the museum, its programs, and events. He joined the MANY Board in April 2018 and has served as Program Chair and Vice-President. This April, he will become the MANY Board President. He lives in Painted Post, NY with his husband Mitchell Hurricane Smith and their two dogs, Stella Josephine Parker and Nove Delphine Parker. 

    We spoke with him to learn more about when he knew he wanted to work in museums, his career path, and what keeps him motivated.

    Brian Lee Whisenhunt speaks up for NYS museums at the 2020 American Alliance of Museums Advocacy Day with Corning Museum of Glass President and Executive Director Karol Wight in Washington, DC

     

    MANY: What other jobs have you had in the museum field? Can you tell us about your journey to get to your current role?

    Brian Lee Whisenhunt: I began my career in museum education, interpretation, and audience development–with positions as director of education and manager of public programs. There are numerous educators in my family, so I think that’s why it was in many ways a natural fit for me. I do love research, scholarship and writing about art and all the work considered curatorial. But what I’m passionate about, more than all of that, is taking that research, knowledge, and understanding and translating it into a tool empowering people to look more closely, think more deeply, and connect to a work of art. It’s exciting to me and what I truly love about museum work.

    I worked in museum education for about ten years, but then became more interested in the inner workings of museums and cultural organizations –how things came together in the bigger picture. So, I began my career as a museum director at the Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana. It is a small museum with an amazing collection of American art. From there I went to the Museum of the Southwest, which is a multidisciplinary museum in West Texas including an art museum housed in an historic home, a children’s museum, a planetarium, a science center, and a public sculpture collection.

    One of the reasons I went to the Museum of the Southwest was because I enjoy the interplay of the disciplines and I love mixing things up. It makes things more interesting for our audiences because it shows there are innumerable ways to approach a museum experience and connect through different modes of understanding. We did a big renovation of the art museum when I was there. It was three different buildings– one of them an historic mansion –so spaces from three eras cobbled together in this weird way. We were able to rethink and refresh the spaces, bring unity and cohesion, and create a more contemporary experience for our visitors.

    From there I went to The Rockwell Museum. I looked at the job when it was first posted, and I wasn’t sure if it was for me.  After talking to the recruiter and learning a lot more about The Rockwell’s history and mission, it felt like the perfect fit. Education, community engagement, and collaboration have been at the core of The Rockwell’s work for decades. At the other organizations that I’ve worked, it was necessary to spend a lot of time convincing the leadership and some of the people I worked with that those values were going to help us connect with our audience and propel the organizations forward. Those organizations embraced those ideas, understood and believed them, and eventually benefited from that shift. But it took a lot of convincing. There are so many expectations around what “blockbuster” exhibitions can do for an organization, but that’s not the whole picture–that’s not always what really helps people create a deeper connection with an institution. Looking at The Rockwell, I knew I wasn’t going to have to advocate for that sort of shift–it was already here. I wasn’t going to have to convince anyone how important education was because they all believed it and we could just keep building on that great work to expand how we serve our communities in the Chemung Valley and the people who visit Corning from all over the world.


    Brian Lee Whisenhunt in the gallery at Alfred Ceramic Art Museum at Alfred University with Wayne Higby, Director of the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum examining “Temple’s Gate Pass” by Wayne Higby.

     

    What other experiences in your career have you found most helpful for your role now?

    I can think of three experiences from before I started working in museums. At one point, I was teaching art appreciation at two high schools. That work was fundamental to my understanding of how to talk to people about art in a different way. Prior to that, I’d been in an academic setting. I’d been in a department of art historians and artists who all wanted to talk about museum experiences and art history in a scholarly way. When I went into the high school to teach teenagers, they were really interested in what we were looking at, but I had to use a different lens than what I’d done before. It was formative for me and my perspective on how to connect people with art in the museum experience and what inspired them.

    Also, my time at the Getty Leadership Institute (GLI), now the Museum Leadership Institute (MLI), was incredibly important to me and I was part of the cohort in 2014 when they rebooted the program. I’m a collaborative leader and bring a non-hierarchical approach to working with other people and that is not always reflected in the educational materials around leadership style. I felt unsure about my mode of leadership because it did not feel affirmed–which has, of course, changed in the past few years. So, I went to MLI with a question of “am I following the right path and am I going the right way in how I’m thinking about myself as a leader? Is this a way that I can be successful and true to my own personal values?” The program affirmed that because it teaches to look at your strengths as a leader and how to play to and build on those strengths. It helped me see the path I was on more clearly and that my approach to leadership was going to be a strong, authentic way for me to be a museum director.

    Lastly, the thing that’s been so important to me for many years is serving on the boards of other nonprofits, museums and membership organizations. In addition to MANY, I’ve served on the board of the Mountain-Plains Museums Association, an HIV/AIDS service organization and am on the Museum Advisory Council of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute. And I’ve also served on various committees for other associations throughout the years. It's important for me because I believe it is essential for us to give back to our field in whatever way we can, but it also helped me understand working with my own board in a more holistic way. Having the experiences of being on other boards helped me think about the people who were serving on my own museum board differently.

     

    Can you tell us a little more about your experience with the Getty Leadership–now Museum Leadership–Institute?

    It’s a competitive application process and the reboot in 2014 really expanded the program to an international cohort. I had colleagues from around the world–China, Europe, South America, Mexico, Canada. It was really an amazing group of people. The experience and connections to those people are essential to me– we were and still are incredibly close. Even seven years later, during the pandemic, we were gathering virtually trying to support one another and assist some who were going through transitions in their careers. We gathered as a group to listen, console and offer direction. One of the best things for me is to connect people in our field to support one another and the work that is happening.

     

    What is one of your biggest motivations to do what you do? What do you get excited about in your role as the Executive Director of The Rockwell?

    I think my motivation starts with the visitor experience and the primary goals of a museum educator. Even though I now serve as the Executive Director, I still see my work through the lens of museum education and visitor engagement. I want to inspire people when they come into the museum. I want them to think about their own lives. I want to give them a way to consider the lives of the people around them through the lens of the work in the collection. Building that engagement with our audiences is what will strengthen our organizations because it allows people to see the museum experience as essential to their lives and not just something that they do on holiday. 

    A visit to a museum can both fortify a person’s understanding of themselves and allow them to consider the world around them in a more meaningful way. I think there’s been a real shift in the last few years in how the museum experience is perceived. At The Rockwell, it’s how we further ideas around engagement, and how we promote a better understanding of ourselves and the people around us, particularly as it relates to the American experience. With much of the rhetoric we have in our country right now, there is this idea there is one way or two ways to be an American and that’s so untrue. There are as many ways as there are people to be American and we all bring our own experiences, backgrounds, heritage, and complicated histories to what it means to be American. What we’re trying to do at The Rockwell is to generate more empathy and understanding towards one another and an appreciation for the fact that we are a multiplicity, not a monolith.

    Brian Lee Whisenhunt leads a tour at The Rockwell Museum for the MANY Board in September 2020.

     

    What are some of your goals?

    2026 is a very important year for The Rockwell Museum because it’s our 50th anniversary. We are working on celebrating five decades of service. The Museum was a bicentennial gift to the community and we’re trying to position ourselves for the next fifty years of service as well as celebrate all that we’ve accomplished.

    At the same time, we will also be going through the American Alliance of Museums’ reaccreditation process. Accreditation is about the organization’s internal work, but also how the museum serves the community. The process looks at our finances, our collections care, our policies, and other things like that, while the celebration of our 50th anniversary will be very public and outward. Both are significant milestones!

     

    Would your 18-year-old self imagine that you would be where you are today?

    I did know that I wanted to work at a museum. I was trying to figure out what I needed to do and what education I needed to pursue. When I was seventeen, I went to the University of Oklahoma for a college tour and as part of that experience, I went to the campus museum connected to the art school and art history program. I met with the curator of education and talked about her work and the museum and what I needed to pursue to follow that path. It was at seventeen and even before, that I was thinking about a museum career. The person I spoke with was Susan Baley who is now the Executive Director of the Grinnell College Museum of Art–we’ve known each other since I was seventeen and she’s been a longtime mentor to me as well as a dear friend.

     

    Can you tell us about where you grew up? What was it like growing up there?

    I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma which is a large, beautiful city that most people have probably never had occasion to visit. However, with the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre in 2021, more people became familiar with the community and that horrible history. The racist past of the city wasn’t something I was taught much about as a young person, so I also received a lot of reeducation last year about my hometown and the horrors of white supremacy that were enacted in that time. I also came to understand how those events formed the basis of and continued to impact the community where I grew up. Oklahoma is also home to one of the largest numbers of Native American Tribes or Nations who were forced to relocate there and then subsequently had the lands they were give taken away or diminished. As a result of these terrible histories, the state, and Tulsa in particular, had incredible wealth that allowed it to establish numerous cultural organizations in the early 20th century. In Tulsa alone, there is an opera, a ballet company, a philharmonic and two major museums, the Gilcrease Museum of Art and the Philbrook Museum of Art. Museum origin stories are important and of interest to me. But it’s essential we look at not just the communities or people who established them, but also the cultural context, exclusion and oppression that might also have made them possible.  

    Both Gilcrease and Philbrook were a part of my early museum experiences. My parents worked in education and so they valued my interest in the arts. They took me to museums so that I had opportunities that were reflective of my interests. Gilcrease is interesting because it’s a collection that is American and predominantly Western. In the 1970s they regularly held a family program called “Rendezvous” with an outdoors component where you could fire a musket on the museum property. True story! My dad would take me and my brother because I think it captured both of our interests—my brother got to fire guns and I got to explore the galleries and art. And when traveled, we would go to museums and exhibitions. Often it was ‘divide and conquer’ with me and my brother –my mom would take me to museums and my dad would take my brothers to do something else. So, it was very much part of how I grew up.

    The defining museum experience for me was when I was about twelve years old and the Armand Hammer Collection was touring the country. It was a major exhibition. It’s a collection that has Leonardo and Rembrandt –a true, classic blockbuster exhibition! There was a connection to Tulsa through the family, so the Philbrook Museum of Art was one of the venues for this exhibition. This was major and I don’t think that this happens the same way anymore but there were people standing in lines all over the country to see this exhibition. Philbrook was doing a lot of programs around this exhibition and because my father was an administrator for the schools, he was invited to an evening opening reception and took me rather than my mom. It was an eye-opening experience because I had been to museums and museum programs and art camps, stuff like that, but I’d never been to an opening. I’d never been to an exhibition program like that, and I thought “wow people work here? It’s not just the art on the walls!” but there seemed to be all these things happening that I didn’t know about.

    That’s when I first had the idea that this was what I wanted to do, work in a museum and be a part of that experience. It felt special. We had an amazing evening looking at this collection and it’s a clear memory for me. These museum experiences that I had as a kid are still a touchstone for me and they’re still a reason for why I do what I do.

     

    Can you describe a favorite day on the job?

    My favorite days are the ones where I can be in the galleries with other people. Whether that’s with one other person on a tour, a docent training or a program. That to me is the absolute best experience and workday. During the pandemic when everything became virtual and I didn’t get to have that experience, it was truly challenging. Doing virtual programs was great and I had a lot of fun with it, and still am, but when we got back to the museums and back into the galleries with people talking about art, it was such an amazing moment. My heart was overwhelmed. And I just love talking to anyone about art in the galleries–it doesn’t matter if you know anything about art for me to enjoy looking at a painting with you. It’s almost better when you don’t! Recently, I was working on preparation for a program and was looking at a work of art that was part of the research that I was doing and Sherry Kirk, who’s the museum’s executive liaison and finance manager, made the mistake of walking by and I called her over to talk to me about this print. I honestly needed other eyes on it and to understand what others think about it and how I should approach my presentation. To me, that’s the point of appreciating the different perspectives that we all have. Someone else and what they think about a concept or how they see a work of art through the lens of their experience, or their education, or their life, can help me understand it in a way that I never would from just reading about it or looking on my own. It’s definitely the best workday for me when I can talk to other people in the gallery about works of art and what interests them.


    MANY Executive Director Erika Sanger with Brian Lee Whisenhunt at the Museum of Art and Design’s Vera Paints a Scarf: The Art and Design of Vera Neumann exhibition in 2019.

     

    Earlier, you briefly mentioned Susan Baley and identified her as one of your mentors. Can you tell us more about how she influenced you and is there any advice that she gave you that you’ve held onto?

    She was, and is, a great museum educator and a great example of what I could do in that role and the impact that I could have. She’s a very thoughtful person and a great leader; she influenced me just through her example. Also by just encouraging me to do things like present at a conference and be part of an organizational board. She served on the Mountain-Plains Museums Association board and encouraged me to be on the education committee and eventually take over the role of scholarship chair from her. Her service to the field is one of the things that inspired me to also give back to my professional community in that same way.

    I have another friend Stephanie Jung who is a now drawing professor but was working in museums at the start of my career. The advice that she gave me and that I’ve shared with many other people was “when you see a good idea, steal with both hands.” Whenever you see something inspiring to you, take in all of it that you can and internalize it and make it something that works for your perspective and for your organization. I never want to steal something in a literal way, but I do want to steal the inspiration, the impact, and the idea and I think that’s something that we don't always do. As a field, there’s often a lot of repetition or replication of programming but the truly successful iterations take an idea and dig into it, considering how it will influence and impact your own work and the visitors to your organization.

    We think about mentors and people who have influenced us and its often people who are older than we are, who preceded us in our careers and that’s the case with Stephanie and with Susan. But I’ve also been thinking about the people that I’ve worked with that have been part of my team, especially early in my career and how their careers and the work they’ve gone on to do has really influenced me. I take a lot of inspiration from everyone that I work with regardless of where they are in their careers. I’m so proud to see the people that I’ve had the opportunity to be on a team with go on and do amazing things, like Amanda Thomas Blake who is Director of Education and Library Services at The Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, TX and Emily Lew Fry, who is the Director of Interpretation at the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL.

     

    For fun, you have an entire museum/collection to yourself. What do you do? 

    If I’m somehow able to sneak into The Met, the first thing I’m going to do is call all my friends because I wouldn’t want it all to myself! Yes, there’s this enticing idea of having a space all to yourself, but again, the most exciting thing for me is looking at, experiencing, and talking about art with other people. So, if I was by myself the first thing I would do would be text everybody I know to drop everything and meet me at the side door. I’m also a wanderer. I usually have a two-fold mission when I visit museums. There are things that I want to see, but at the same time I enjoy serendipity and appreciate chance. Especially if you’re at someplace like The Met because you never know what experience you’re going to get or what you’re going to notice that you hadn’t before or see what’s changed. I really love meandering and finding things that are interesting, investigating them with people that I’m with, and learning what they think about them, or why they appreciate them, or why they don’t, or what’s challenging about it, or what’s easy about it, or what’s familiar or strange. That’s always my approach and that would definitely be my approach. I would also probably get them to help me move some things around because I like mixing things up.

  • February 28, 2022 8:18 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    In December 2021, The Ralph C. Wilson Foundation established an endowment and committed $100 million to transform the financial strength and long-term viability of Western New York’s art and culture community. The Foundation will contribute nearly $60 million over the next ten years through a new endowment at the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. This investment will create a permanent operational funding stream for 13 of the region’s largest arts and culture institutions and will provide an annual grant opportunity for additional arts and culture organizations across Western New York.

    Key Goals 

    “This investment was out of the Foundation’s Economic Development focus area,” said Jim Boyle, Vice President of Programs and Communications at the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation Jr. Foundation. “Our intention with making this substantial investment is two-fold. In the short-term, we knew many of these institutions were facing urgent needs related to the economic impact of the pandemic, so there was a desire to get funds out immediately while the endowment is being built on a parallel path. Overall, the Foundation’s goal with this initiative is to help transform the strength and long-term viability of the region’s arts & culture sector as regional economic drivers, in addition to supporting inclusion and access strategies to better serve all communities.”

    To ensure that the program has an immediate impact, the Foundation plans on providing an additional $33.75 million in grants beginning in 2022 and continuing over the next nine years while the endowment is growing $3.7 million in annual funding will be dispersed and utilized in three areas:

    1. $500,000 will be available each year for primarily small to mid-size arts and culture institutions across the nine counties of Western New York. Organizations will apply through their regional community foundation. “We recognize that arts & culture institutions of all sizes play a tremendous role in shaping the unique identity and fabric of communities,” said Boyle. “This sector’s contributions to Western New York’s quality of life and economy through job creation, local spending, consumer purchases, tax revenue, and tourism are significant, in addition to attracting and retaining talent.”

    2. $3 million will be allocated to provide operational support for 13 arts and cultural institutions located throughout Buffalo and Western New York identified as economic drivers in their communities to assist with sustainability and inclusion efforts. These institutions are the Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park, Buffalo History Museum, Buffalo Museum of Science, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Buffalo Zoo, Burchfield Penney Art Center, Explore & More: he Ralph C. Wilson, Jr, Children’s Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House, Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor and anchor institutions, National Comedy Center, Shea’s Performing Art Center, and The Strong National Museum of Play. 

    3. $250,000 in funding to the community foundations that supports permanent capacity to manage and operate the funding and community engagement work required, as well as support ways that the sector can improve upon inclusion and access for individual organizations of all scopes and sizes. 

    “The Foundation’s trustees wanted to make a bold statement with this significant and meaningful investment that builds upon and complements the substantial and long term investment that many local and national funders, individual donors, and critical public funding streams have made in these treasured entities, which have helped them become the regional economic drivers they are today,” said Boyle.

    Identifying Institutions for Funding

    The Foundation selected the 13 institutions in Western New York to receive annual endowment funding through an internal process that was data-informed. “There is an incredible amount of beloved and celebrated arts and cultural institutions across the nine counties of the Foundation’s geographic focus in Western New York,” said Boyle. “However, with the Foundation’s desire to make an impact in the region and within the organizations identified for funding, we had to narrow the selection to a handful of institutions that contribute substantial economic impact within the region, with many driving significant tourism, in addition to local visitation and some that carry local and national prominence with cultural-specific missions,” Boyle said that the Foundation had to make a cut at some point but that the Foundation knew that small and midsize cultural organizations also contribute significantly to the regions’ economy. 

    Impactful Museum Support

    Buffalo Museum of Science will receive $200,000 annually from the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation

    “As we prepare to embark on a new multi-year strategic plan, this incredibly generous source of funding will serve as a catalyst for jump-starting a number of ambitious objectives,” said Marisa Wigglesworth, President and CEO of the Buffalo Science Museum and Tifft Nature Preserve. “It will better position us to develop and strengthen community connections through which we can deliver informal STEM education and provide science content that is relevant, meaningful, and accessible to new and continuing audiences.” The Buffalo Museum of Science, which will receive $200,000 annually, previously received support from the Foundation through their STEM 2035 Initiative which invests in advancing STEM education opportunities in Western New York. The funding helped re-launch the Museum’s Teen STEM Initiative, an out-of-school time program that provides teens from backgrounds under-represented in STEM careers with STEM-leaning and job-readiness skills. The Museum also received support from The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Legacy Funds at the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo to complete a feasibility study to build a fully accessible trail at Tifft Nature Preserve.

    The Buffalo History Museum will receive $150,000 annually from the Foundation through this new funding stream. “The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation recognizes the vital role of endowments and through this program addresses two of the largest challenges faced by culturals, especially in this pandemic-aware climate,” said Melissa Brown, Executive Director of the Buffalo History Museum. In 2017, the Foundation provided $600,000 to the Museum’s Restore, Reactivate, Reconnect capital campaign that helped fund rehabilitation of the second floor West Gallery of the Museum, home of the exhibit “Icons: The Makers and Moments of Buffalo Sports.”

    Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House will receive $100,000 annually. “The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation’s support of multiple institutions of all sizes through their Art Initiative is a unique partnership that will sustain our cultural community in perpetuity,” said Mary Roberts, Executive Director of the Martin House. “It is a testament to the value of the arts. These are local institutions who are relevant and respond to the needs of the community. We are grateful for their support and endorsement of our work.”

    These annual funds are unrestricted and can be designated for general operating needs. “For some, this might mean strengthening cash reserves for emergencies, completing much-needed facility repairs, or hiring key staff,” said Boyle. “These funds are not intended for programmatic expenses.” The Foundation hopes that this process will result in shared agreements across the institutions regarding these operational metrics. “These operational metrics often don’t get the attention they deserve in terms of keeping these entities healthy and helping them to reach their potential to serve their communities and patrons.”

    “This wonderful opportunity will lead to long-term financial stabilization, sustainability, and viability–for us, this truly is a gamechanger,” said Terry Alford, Executive Director of the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission. The Michigan Street African American Corridor was established in 2007 through NYS legislation that created a historic preservation area on Buffalo’s east side. Cultural anchors include the Michigan Street Baptist Church, the Nash House, the Colored Musicians Club and Museum, and the WUFO Radio Black Radio History Collective. “Our inclusion serves as a meaningful and significant recognition of the important role the African American Heritage Corridor plays in creating a thriving cultural center on the east side of Buffalo. We are grateful to the Wilson Foundation for establishing an endowment that will create a permanent path forward for our Commission to work together with the anchor institutions to honor and preserve this historic district’s legacy for many generations to come.”

    Supporting Capital Projects

    Architectural rendering of the new 30,000 square foot addition to the 1905 building on the main Albright-Knox Campus. Photo courtesy Albright-Knox Art Gallery

    The Foundation is also awarding two $5 million capital grants to support the expansion of the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. 

    The $5 million grant to The Strong will support its $60 million “Powered by Play” capital campaign.

    “The Strong is deeply grateful to have been chosen by The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation as one of 13 recipients in New York to receive annual support and to also be recognized for the museum’s international reputation and strength as an economic driver through a capital grant to directly support the museum’s transformative expansion project, including a new 90,000-square-foot museum wing,” said Steve Dubnik, President and CEO of The Strong. “In addition to helping fund the significant costs of operating the museum, The Foundation’s annual support will help ensure The Strong’s long-term viability and resilience in the face of future potential large-scale challenges and global uncertainties.” 

    The Albright-Knox will use the $5 million to support its construction of an “Indoor Town Square” which will become a year-round destination that will be free and open to the public. 

    “In December, the Wilson Foundation announced that it was awarding the Buffalo AKG Art Museum a $5 million capital campaign gift as well as $500,000 of annual operating support in perpetuity,” said Jillian Jones, Director of Advancement at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum (formerly, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery). “As we prepare for the opening of the Buffalo AKG in Spring 2023, the Wilson Foundation has brought us $5 million closer to reaching our capital campaign goal for the construction project. At the same time, they have ensured that the museum will have the funds necessary to operate our expanded and revitalized campus. For years, the Wilson Foundation and its leadership have realized the vision of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. in Western New York by supporting arts and cultural organizations. Their unprecedented support is a testament to their belief in the power of institutions like the Buffalo AKG to contribute to economic, social, and cultural life across the region.”

    Long-term 

    “It’s our hope that the funding we are providing to these 13 organizations in Western New York will be transformative, but we know that more is needed to support them and there are hundreds more that have similar needs,” said Boyle. “It’s our hope that other funders will join us in this approach with a focus on operational support and the use of endowment as a tool and trust these institutions will be good stewards of their assets.”


    Learn more about the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation: https://www.ralphcwilsonjrfoundation.org/


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