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A museum meltdown
After a string of resignations, the election of a new board of trustees, and a brief closure and reopening of the exhibit center, the Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley is moving ahead with and without some key pieces.
The past two weeks led to a near-complete overhaul of the museum’s board of trustees and staff: Executive Director DJ Bassett resigned on March 29. Of the paid staff, only the bookkeeper remains since the end of March.
Priscilla Hudson, former trustee vice-president, handed over keys and gave brief instructions for the new trustees at a special meeting on Saturday, March 29, inside the DeWitt Administration building on Sequim Avenue.
Hudson gave her own resignation at the meeting, saying that for nine months she had received negative comments about her and the museum. She referred to the January annual members meeting as a “hostile war zone” and the trustees’ March 20 meeting as a “hostile takeover” after a handful of potential trustees applied and were voted onto the board.
“You not only destroyed a part of my heart, you affected the lives of paid and unpaid staff and many volunteers and have damaged the professional state of the MAC,” she said.
Trustee Candace Burkhardt said the museum will survive the changes.
“We’re moving forward and the museum is going to be fine,” Burkhardt said.
Following the resignations, the museum’s exhibit center, 175 W. Cedar St., did not open on Saturday, March 29, but new MAC board members and volunteers with Sequim Arts reopened it on Tuesday, April 1.
Lester Ellis, a new trustee, said they’ve permanently switched back from a $3 entry fee to a donation. They also plan to be open for the First Friday Art Walk.
The conflict, said Board of Trustees Secretary Bob Stipe, stems from the museum’s former trustees and staff not revealing financial information.
New Board of Trustees President Jerry Brownfield said they’ve been following the financial issue for about a year and that a lot of red flags went up.
New and old museum members brought up money issues at the members’ meeting, wondering why the museum should pay for two consultants and staff when there is a shortfall.
It was revealed the museum lost $138,998 in 2013 and is expected to lose $65,458 this year.
The museum lost $43,466 in 2008, $3,094 in 2009, $45,317 in 2010, and $87,372 in 2011.
In January the museum’s available operating fund consisted of about $40,000 from an endowment which is worth about $163,000, but $120,000 is restricted and can’t be used for general operating expenses.
The museum closed its Second Chance Consignment Shop on Feb. 25 due to declining revenues, which allegedly saved it $21,000 a year.
Stipe said the board’s biggest focus right now is finances and trustees are unsure how much is due to staff and consultants Michael Friedline, who resigned on March 20, and Richard Beckerman, who resigned earlier.
Robert Schlechter, who has worked on the MAC’s photo collection for the past three years, said Bassett tried to raise money and it didn’t happen.
“(The consultants) never got a chance to prove themselves,” he said.
Former volunteer Lyn Fiveash said Beckerman was an asset who changed the exhibit center, which finished a remodel on Feb. 2, for the better in only a few hours.
“Sequim needs those tourists in … for revenue,” she said.
Bassett resigned on March 28 in an e-mail to Hudson “due to the hostile take-over of the Board of Trustees by an outside self-interest group.”
He said most of the staff and volunteers have stepped away from the museum due to the “hostility” but he encouraged respect for the museum and the incoming volunteers.
Bassett, who came to the museum in 2010, has been a point of contention for groups such as Sequim Arts after a dispute over finances for an art show.
Linda Stadtmiller, Sequim Arts president, said she and Bridget Baker, former exhibit center manager, will volunteer at the center on Tuesday and Sequim Arts volunteers through the week.
In October, Sequim Arts publicized a conflict with Bassett about shared revenues, estimating the club lost $1,000 for Sequim Arts’ Juried Art Show held at the MAC.
Stadtmiller said Bassett failed to honor their verbal agreement despite agreeing to it the previous year.
She sent correspondence to former Board President Gideon Cauffman, but Bassett said he did not receive the letter and that there was no spoken contract between the agencies.
Sequim Arts recently stopped renting space from the museum, as did Readers Theatre Plus.
Olympic Driftwood Sculptors delayed its April 1 exhibit for a later date but looks to partner in the future, organizers said.
Angelina Reese, a museum photo archivist since 2012, said volunteers were glad to donate their time and talents because of the leadership they had.
“They (the new board members) don’t know how to run a museum. It’s sad,” she said.
“DJ, with Renee (Mizar, communications coordinator & executive assistant), has brought the museum up to a professional level.”
Brownfield said he’s received multiple calls from past board members and volunteers looking to help since the changes.
“It’s been a good response,” he said. “The community has been waiting for this to happen.”
Randy Radock spoke to the board on Saturday, saying he wants to serve as a liaison between the museum and Sequim Arts.
“We plan to repair the damage,” he said.
Bob Clark, a co-founder of the museum and current board adviser, said he’s served as a committee member of the Dungeness Schoolhouse and they’ve worked to cut finances so that it is within $1,000 of breaking even. He hopes the facility will be rented during Lavender Weekend.
Steph Ellyas, exhibit center manager for more than a year and a volunteer for four years prior, said she was laid off but would have quit due to the changes.
“I liked the work,” she said. “I hope it keeps going, but I won’t come back.”
Ellyas hopes volunteers do come back, though, because “It’s too nice of a place to see it go.”
Trustees meet at 5 p.m. Thursday in the DeWitt Administration building, 544 N. Sequim Ave.