The Sheldon Museum, the oldest community-based museum in the nation, is experimenting with a new leadership structure by choosing to not fill the role of Executive Director. The community has been waiting for the response of the museum’s board since former Executive Director Stephanie Skenyon resigned abruptly in late January.
“We are now advertising for two essential job positions, Business Operations Manager and Visitor Services Coordinator,” said Collections Manager Allison LaCroix. “In the future we intend to add Museum Educator and Development/Fundraising positions. We intend for this distributed leadership model to employ a culture of equity where individuals are self-managed and empowered, responsible and encouraged to fulfill their potential within their roles.”
Associate Director Mary Manley is also leaving the museum after 25 years in order to spend more time with her grandchild. “Her functions will be performed by the new business manager and visitors’ services coordinator,” LaCroix said.
The museum’s administrative structure will change from a top-down management system to a more democratic one, which will also reduce overall payroll costs for the museum.
According to LaCroix, they are now holding bi-weekly staff and board meetings to help everyone adjust during the restructuring process. “The Executive Committee will serve as the liaison between the staff and board of trustees and help with any outstanding issues until all job positions are filled,” LaCroix said.
In addition to the administrative adjustment, the museum has been working on several large infrastructure projects. These include the construction of a more energy-efficient heating system and a multi-year window restoration project, which includes 28 newly-restored windows to replace those destroyed in a storm last December, according to reporting from The Addison Independent.
The museum will reopen for the season on May 13 with many new exhibitions. In addition to these infrastructure improvements, the museum will also be restarting its educational programs with local schools.
The museum will feature six exhibitions this year, according to LaCroix. From May 13 to Aug. 26, last year’s collage exhibit, “Artists in the Archives,” will continue to be on display in the Pierce Gallery. The exhibit will be expanded to highlight those historically marginalized in Vermont and absent from the state’s archival records. Three digital collages will be replaced with the artists’ original analog artworks. Displays of recently discovered and acquired materials on the presence of Native American, African American and Asian residents in Middlebury will also accompany the collages.
From Sept. 8 to Jan. 2024, the exhibit “Selling Fashion in Historical Middlebury, 1800s-early 1900,” will explore how Middlebury and Addison County residents dressed and groomed themselves during the 19th to early 20th centuries, offering a historical overview of local clothing and tailoring businesses, barber and beauty salons, and jewelers and accessory stores that existed in historic Middlebury. The exhibit includes items such as photographs, prints, newspaper advertisements, fashion catalogs and magazines and other collectibles that illustrate how both high and low standards of beauty were advertised and consumed locally.
From May to October, the exhibition series “Found in Collections: A Closer Look” will run in Cerf Gallery. The exhibit is devoted to making more of Sheldon’s collection available to the public, including many items that have not been on display for decades. The exhibit invites questions about which pieces are in the museum collections and why they were collected, LaCroix explained. The first installation in this exhibition, “Variety Sew: A Sampling of Textile Tools and Devices” will trace technological developments in early textile production by displaying a variety of sewing machines, spinning wheels and other sewing devices.
From May to October, there will also be an exhibition titled “Stellar Stitching: 19th Century Samplers in Vermont” exploring how certain textiles were used as tools of learning through needlework samplers made by young girls. The museum will also host a “Sampler ID Day” on Sept. 29 and 30 for the public to bring in their antique stitching samplers to be photographed and documented as contributions to the Sampler Archive Project and the Vermont Statewide Sampler Initiative.
From November to December, the museum will host the Annual Holiday Train Exhibit, which will showcase the elaborate Lionel train layout and a backdrop of the Green Mountains painted by local artist Gayl Braisted.
From May to December, the museum will exhibit some new items from their collections along with supporting objects and archival materials.
The Sheldon Museum will be open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., beginning in mid-May.