From the Helm

Thank you for helping us meet the Jacobs Family Matching Challenge for the 2013 Annual Fund.

Published from The Bulletin from Johnny Cake Hill  |  Winter & Spring 2014  [ Archived Letters

2014 marks a special year for the Town of Dartmouth as it celebrates 350 years of incorporation. This Bulletin will dedicate several pages to her stories over the next 12 months. One notable recent Museum commission is of a model of the Dartmouth, famous for being the first large ship built in the then Bedford Village and for playing her part in brewing up a ruckus in Boston harbor in 1773.

Residents of Old Dartmouth can reminisce as the Charles W. Morgan comes full circle with her Homecoming scheduled in late June. This signature event will likely dominate the headlines as both the City of New Bedford and Mystic Seaport plan to pull out all the stops celebrating the return of this venerable icon and extant vestige of Yankee whaling’s Golden Age. The Mayor has appointed a Steering Committee to manage all aspects of her arrival—and departure! A preliminary schedule is included herein.

As the Morgan sails here, we also take our show on the road. The story of Azorean and Cape Verdean whalers will travel to multiple venues and as far west as the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park this fall. To our long-distance members, if you think there is a constituency for this themed-exhibit in your neighborhood, please inform our curators.

In anticipation and as a prelude to the Morgan’s visit, programs abound to interest and excite. For sailors, you cannot miss the Sailors’ Series focus on the high-tech America’s Cup. For historians, the River and Rail Symposium will explore new facets in the evolution of this city as a manufacturing and commercial center. The Scrimshaw Symposium returns in May for its 25th consecutive occurrence, a testament to the high level of interest and scholarship in the field. This year we honor Dr. Stuart Frank’s lifetime of service. An exhibit on works by Benjamin Russell examines his development as an artist and includes many recently conserved, hitherto unseen prints. This exhibit coincides with the commencement of a major multi-year effort to conserve his famous panorama.

Last fall Louie Howland, Chair of the Scholarship and Publications Committee, received a telephone call from Stanford Crapo of Carson City, Nevada. He had a clock in his procession, passed down from generation to generation and that dates back to the earliest Slocum’s to farm in Dartmouth. He made arrangements for it to come back to New Bedford, along with his personal library. This clock could easily have gone elsewhere or be converted to cash at auction or private sale. That Mr. Crapo chose this museum is testament to his understanding of the role of historical societies and, in particular, his appreciation for the significance of returning a treasured piece of Old Dartmouth history. This act of generosity mirrors that of so many others who elect to put heritage and legacy above self-interest.

By every major measure 2013 closed with a bang. As our members enjoyed the fireworks display at the annual New Year’s Swingin’ Eve bash, our Annual Fund lit up like a Roman Candle. Your contributions propelled us well over our budgeted goal, exceeding it by 18%, setting an institutional record in the process. On top of this, donations to the capital campaign were exemplary and in some cases, extraordinary. The endowment also performed well and now tops $8.6 million, more than double when at its nadir four years ago. Memberships, rental income, admissions and store sales all met or exceeded expectations. Out-of-town visitors continue to comment favorably on their visits and locally, partners continue to seek out our galleries to host their programs. Rightly I believe we look to these metrics in totality as indicators of significant success.

Capital projects feature prominently in 2014. Serious effort is now bearing fruit as we can present these renderings of our new Education Center and Research Library for your review. The New Bedford Historical Commission has approved the designs in concept. We believe the aesthetic and organizational solutions to be highly satisfactory and comprehensive and anticipate that the new Center will be a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Work will proceed in earnest by mid-2014 and young students will fill the halls and classrooms by mid-2015.

It is worth reminding ourselves why we embarked on this campaign and at this time. As you may know, the Museum houses its library and Reading Room in a converted bank building 4 blocks up the hill. On every criterion, from security and safety, through efficiency and economy, to access and utility, it makes sense to consolidate all holdings and operations on one campus. The new Center will connect to and fold the historic Sundial Building back into Museum operations. Old HVAC systems that currently labor to control the climate in the existing complex will be replaced or refurbished with state-of-the-art units. It is our contention that this new building will create the underpinnings for a slew of new education programs, including ramping-up participation with K-12 populations in the short term. The remarkable success of the Apprenticeship Program has strengthened our resolve to work deeper with New Bedford schools. In the long run, as the Education Department expands, we envision a myriad of new programs, unencumbered by lack of appropriate space and resources. To all who are supporting this project, and in particular to the Jacobs and Wattles families, we thank you for your foresight. On behalf of the Trustees, we invite and encourage you to join us at a ceremonial ground-breaking in May.