Following months of speculation and conjecture, the Fayetteville Museum of Art Assessment Report has been released to the community. The report, paid for by the Arts Council of Fayetteville-Cumberland County, and prepared by Diane Frankel of The Museum Group, based in San Francisco, Calif., is designed to create a way ahead for the reopening of the now defunct museum; however, current museum board members say that until the old museum is sold, nothing can be done.
The Arts Council sanctioned the report last year, following news of the museum’s closing. Frankel has 25 years of experience in the non-profi t arena, serving as the director of graduate programs in museum studies at John F. Kennedy University and the founding director of the Bay Area Discovery Museum. As a presidential appointee of President Bill Clinton, she headed the Institute of Museum and Library Services in Washington, D.C. This agency provides funds for museum and libraries across the United States and is the largest Federal cultural agency. Frankel works with museums as they transition from one director to another, and on their strategic planning processes and fundraising programs.
Frankel’s task was to “assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Fayetteville Museum of Art” and to determine the support in the community for the museum.
During her assessment, Frankel spoke with 30 people in the community, the majority of whom had some tie or relationship to the museum in the past, including members of the FMoA Board of Trustees, the FMoA Advisory Group, the FMoA Executive Committee, the Arts Council Executive Committee and staff, as well as local politicos including Mayor Tony Chavonne, Councilman Bobby Hurst, N.C. Senator Wesley Meredith, John Meroski of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Eva Hansen of the Partnership for Children, former County Commissioner Breeden Blackwell and Jeff Pettus of the N.C. Arts Council.
During her discussions, Frankel said she found that the museum was “greatly valued by the community” and that those interviewed expressed the “need for a high-quality art museum.”
What they also expressed is a sense that the museum staff and board had strayed from its vision and had “lost focus” when they set their sites on expansion and the requisite capital campaign needed for the expansion.
“Most planning for the new building started long before I got there (on the board),” said Mac Healy, the current director of the board. “We were spending an inordinate amount of time trying to keep that boat afl oat, so the mission possibly took a backseat. But we continued doing our mission. Classes were going on, kids were coming and they were in the building. I would agree that there was a fair amount of attention to the new building. We believed new membership would go up, attendance would go up once we moved into the new facility, so saying we lost focus on our mission was not an inaccurate statement.”
In the report, Frankel noted that while community leaders are “eager” for the organization to rise from the ashes like the proverbial phoenix, they want “clarity in its mission and vision,” “evidence of a committed leadership” and for the museum to be responsive to the community’s interest.
In order to achieve those desires, Frankel wrote that the museum must follow the best practices of successful museums, including a clear vision and mission, a strong leader, a dedicated board, a well-thought through business plan, compelling exhibitions and educational program and a well-focused strategic plan.
None of those things can occur until the current board retires the outstanding debt of $580,000. The board hopes to satisfy that debt through the sale of the Stamper Road facility, but until that time, movement forward is impossible, according to Healy.
“My board’s main goal is to have the debt retired before a new board takes over,” said Healy. Healy explained that there is a committee of three people set up to recruit an interim board. Mary Holmes, of the Cumberland Community Foundation is the chairman of the committee. She is joined by Doug Peters of the Fayetteville- Cumberland Chamber of Commerce and Karl Legatski.
Healy explained that the committee would seek out those in the community willing to sit on the new board.
“They will look for a new permanent board, but the reality is that nothing will probably happen until we pay the debt off. Not many people will be willing to take on that debt,” he said. “Our hope is that the building will sale, and we can hand over a clean slate to the new board.”
At the current time, Healy said there is no intent to sell the museum’s collection, valued at roughly $900,000, to pay off the debt.
“The community and the new board will need to decide whether we are going to be a collecting museum or an exhibiting museum,” he explained. “There really is no formal way to dispose of the collection, but if the board decided to do that, they need the funds from the sale of the collection for operations, not to pay debt.”
In the report, Frankel suggested the existing board step down — a conclusion that board had already decided on.
“We realize that irreparable harm has been done to the reputation of this board,” he said. “We aren’t the people to go out and try to rebuild relationships in the community. The new board’s life will be a lot easier if they are debt free. They can show up and make decisions once the city decides whether it wants and will support a museum.”
One of the key relationships that must be rebuilt is that between the museum and the Arts Council of Fayetteville- Cumberland County. Many museum supporters have, in the past, faulted the Arts Council for the museum’s ultimate demise for pulling its fi nancial support to the museum’s operating budget.
Healy said that the board wants to put those arguments behind it, and hopes that the new board will be able to rebuild the relationship and regain financing for the facility’s operations.
“Without that money, it will be hard to keep museum up and running,” said Healy. “The money comes to the Arts Council for the betterment of the arts. When the future board takes over, they are going to have to come to grips with that relationship.”
Jean Moore, the president of the Arts Council Board, believes relationships can be mended, and believes that the report is the fi rst step forward for the museum’s rebirth.
“There is a lot in that report that people knew,” she said, noting that there have been some who have been critical of the report within the community. “We needed someone who was not involved in the situation to look at it objectively and give us a way ahead.
“Part of what Diane had to ascertain was where we had been and how much commitment there is for the museum. She had to figure out where it had been to fi gure out the steps for rebuilding,” continued Moore. “I think she did a great job. There is some talk in the community that she didn’t tell us what to do to fi x it, but that is not what she was hired to do. What she has done is put us in the right direction. She has given the new board the right direction to move in, and now they can run with it.”
One of the biggest decisions the new board will have to make is where the new museum will be located. Healy and Moore both believe that the best location for the facility is downtown.
Many in the community, including Healy, have their eyes on the Lundy Building, Festival Park Plaza, on the perimeter of Festival Park.
“We had three very successful shows in the Lundy Building,” said Healy. “The city owns it and is paying $50,000 a month to keep it vacant. I haven’t spoken with the city and no one is going to enter this process without the board or a budget, but if the city wants a museum, they are going to have to step up and make it happen.”
Fayetteville Mayor Tony Chavonne said the city wants a museum, and he believes its ultimate location should be downtown.
He noted that the Lundy Building is a “diffi cult proposition,” because the city does not, in fact, own it. The building was originally owned by the Lundy Group, The Chamber of Commerce and 3 Aaab LLC (SchoolLink). The city does pay mortgage and operating subsidies for the building, and shortfalls in rent when it is not occupied.
“We have not talked with anyone, but once the museum is reorganized and the new board is in place, we would welcome talks with them,” said Chavonne.
Photo, middle right: The outgoing FMoA Board has high hopes for the future of the museum.