The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture has a new boss. Same as the old boss.
Assuming an offer from the MAC directors is accepted, Forrest Rodgers will return as museum director three months after he was summarily dismissed by an unauthorized vote of the board’s executive committee.
The subsequent uproar focused more attention on the MAC than have any of the fine exhibits shown in recent years featuring everything and everyone from a Tyrannosaurus rex to Leonardo da Vinci. That’s too bad, but indicative of the attendance problems shadowing the MAC when it does not have a superstar show.
That, and ongoing financial challenges, were the reasons Rodgers was brought in from the High Desert Museum in Bend, Ore., last August.
The Washington Legislature has funded the MAC and the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma only through 2013. Unless there is a significant turnaround in the state’s economy by then, the possibility of additional money from Olympia is speculative, at best.
Rodgers says he was poised to undertake a fundraising campaign and, presumably, that will be his first task once his reconciliation with the board is accomplished. He should certainly have the support of the museum’s foundation in that effort. The foundation’s 40 board members were unanimously in his corner, no doubt a major factor in his reappointment.
Others who rallied to Rodgers’ cause will also have to step up. Clearly, there is a lot of passion for the MAC within the arts community, but the whole of the Inland Northwest has just as great a stake in the museum’s future. It is the museum in Spokane, but has the profile of a bas-relief despite the quality of the facility, its wealth of artifacts from Native American tribes from around the region, and the excellence of its exhibits, some made possible by its affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution.
It doesn’t get much better than that for an institution the MAC’s size.
But all those attributes are meaningless if the public does not come through the door to see, and appreciate, just what they’ve got a little out of the way in Browne’s Addition. For example, when he was hired Rodgers talked about “living exhibits,” like those that were popular in Bend, and at the museum’s own Campbell House. Properly done – they can be cheesy if not done well – they can be an effective way to attract and educate visitors.
More outreach throughout the region is needed to make more people aware of the MAC as a historical resource for Eastern Washington.
Rodgers was brought in as a marketer. Unfortunate as his dismissal was, it did focus attention on the museum as a valuable but fragile institution that needs help. For a turnaround artist, there’s no better canvas right now than the MAC.