The Martha’s Vineyard Museum has temporarily suspended its capital campaign which began six years ago with a price tag of $35 million, as a job search begins to replace executive director Keith Gorman.
He will step down at the end of the coming summer after just over a year on the job.
“It’s a family thing,” said Mr. Gorman this week, who has commuted for four years between the Vineyard and North Carolina where his wife Cheryl Roberts studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“My wife can’t relocate . . . financially and academically it doesn’t make sense,” he said in an interview with the Gazette.
Mr. Gorman confirmed that the capital campaign, which originally focused on a plan to relocate the museum campus to a site in West Tisbury and expand programming, has been put on hold in light of the economic climate.
“We’re taking a very strategic pause,” he said, adding: “We’re being very fiscally prudent . . . this year doesn’t make much sense to be going outside what we have now. To be clear, we’re not getting out of the capital campaign.”
Even before he made the decision to leave, Mr. Gorman said he had decided to refocus on the operations at the museum’s current home in Edgartown, a group of properties at the corner of Cooke and School streets.
“It makes absolute sense to stabilize operations and get back to where your strengths are,” he said, laying out a vision of the historic district of Edgartown as an extended museum campus.
“We’re focusing on our programming as the portal to Vineyard history,” he said. “People want to have — I know this sounds corporate — a value-added experience, they want more of a takeaway. They don’t want to spend all their time in a darkened room.”
Despite the recession the museum has reported increasing contributions, dues and admissions fees over the past year.
“We had a great September and October, don’t why but we did,” he said, adding: “It’s going to be a challenging summer and hopefully people will come back.”
He emphasized that when he departs, he will leave the museum on solid financial footing. The museum announced early last year that it was carrying a $135,000 operating deficit for 2008, but then it announced that a single donation made the operation whole later in the year.
A summary of 2008 operating results is included in the spring edition of the museum newsletter.
According to the summary, the museum had an operating gain of just over $150,000 in 2008. Total operating revenues are reported a $1.15 million, while total expenses are reported at $1 million. Nearly $69,000 in restricted lighthouse restoration contributions were included in operating revenue for last year, but were not reflected on the expense side of the ledger. Reached yesterday, development director Amy Houghton said she believed it was a mistake but could not confirm without speaking to the museum finance director or board treasurer, both of whom were off-Island.
The museum will release its more comprehensive annual report in the coming months; Mr. Gorman said for the first time this year the annual report will be published only online, to save printing costs.
He said a search committee has been formed and he is optimistic that a new executive director can be found in relatively short order. He believes this marks the first time the museum has conducted a national search for a director.
Mr. Gorman was hired from within; he worked as museum curator for two years before taking over from previous director Matthew Stackpole in January 2008. Mr. Stackpole, who left suddenly the previous month was himself an Island-sourced recruit.
Though the job search will include Island candidates the museum will cast a wider net this time, advertising the position online, in museum and curator publications, as well as local newspapers, Mr. Gorman said.
The search will be headed by museum board member James Richardson 3rd, a longtime seasonal resident with a background in archeology. Mr. Gorman said the current economic climate should provide a wide range of candidates interested in the job.
“In the churn of people leaving their jobs in the museum world or even the business world . . . there are going to be plenty of people who could step in here.”
The successful candidate will inherit a challenging job, he said.
“Any director in this economy has to be someone who can multi-task. You’re managing daily operations and also a curatorial group.” You’re managing outreach, programming, education, advertising, communicating with your constituency. And you need a sharper understanding of finance.”