The future setting of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum is the subject of a meeting tonight of its board of directors. The 26-member board will discuss whether to continue with an ambitious $27 million capital plan to relocate the museum to West Tisbury, or to move operations to the Edgartown school. Alternatively, the board could scrap both proposals and stay put at its original campus on the corner of School and Cooke streets in Edgartown.
Though the executive leadership of the museum is tight-lipped, it is understood that a planning committee made up of eight board members formed to examine the various options will recommend against pursuing the old Edgartown school as a new base.
“It’s a delicate situation, there’s lots of passionate voices out there,” said the museum’s executive director, Keith Gorman. “We don’t want to impact the board members. It’s the prerogative of the board how they want the meeting to go and what they want to pursue.”
Of the planning committee’s report Mr. Gorman added: “It’s an internal, confidential document and I don’t want to comment at this time.”
Mr. Gorman emphasized the importance of the eventual decision.
“This is not immediate, not for the next 10 years. It’s for the long term,” he said.
He said the planning committee, which is headed-up by board member Peter Vincent, was given three priorities to investigate: green design, financial sustainability, and space and program needs.
“What about multiple sites?” he offered, adding they were looking, too, at public-use patterns, and ease of access to the sites. “What are the pros and cons?”
He said the museum is keenly aware of the national economic backdrop for these discussions but added that the museum has had a good year in terms of operational fund-raising and that admissions are up for the year by 25 per cent.
Edgartown selectman chairman Arthur Smadbeck told the Gazette he is still hoping the museum will chose the school.
“I’m surprised we haven’t heard from them yet. I have patience [but] I don’t know if the other board members are as patient as I am,” he said. “Obviously we’d rather have them here, it’s a boon for the town and it’s a good fit. Edgartown itself is basically a museum.”
Mr. Smadbeck said that an Edgartown old school committee formed by the selectmen to investigate possible uses for the school has been inactive while the museum considers the town offer. “I’m anxious to hear,” he added.
The building has sat vacant for five years, despite the best efforts of the Edgartown old school committee to fill it, and offers from organizations, including the Island schools superintendent’s office, to lease space.
Island drama teacher Donna Swift recently submitted to Edgartown selectmen a business plan which proposed the school become headquarters for a nonprofit theatre workshop named Studio Creations, and turning the space into an Island arts center.
“We are confident that this vision of Studio Creations to turn an old brick building into a thriving artistic center to enrich the lives of the people of Martha’s Vineyard is the best use of the town’s historic treasure,” she wrote in a letter to the selectman.
There are at least three options before the museum board, each with some obvious attractions and drawbacks.
In 2003 the museum announced plans for a $27 million campaign to expand the museum, looking for increased storage and display space as well as to make general improvements — one goal is to achieve national accreditation. That year the society bought a 10-acre parcel of land in West Tisbury, between the Polly Hill Arboretum and the Agricultural Hall. It also paid $75,000 to dismantle and transport an antique dairy barn from the town of Shirley to the West Tisbury site.
That campaign has been in a quiet phase since.
According to development director Amy Houghton, just over $3 million had been raised by summer this year.
Mr. Gorman said last week that active fund-raising for the capital campaign is stalled until a decision on direction is reached.
Mr. Gorman took over after executive director when Matthew Stackpole left suddenly last December.
“The museum is resetting its goals and revising its former price tag,” Mr. Gorman said in the summer.
The society ended 2007 $135,000 in the red but has been buoyed by a recent spate of donations, including a single contribution this summer which erased the 2007 debt.
At that time the selectmen floated the offer of the old Edgartown school.
A museum task force assigned to study the Edgartown school this summer concluded that the move was feasible, while noting storage constraints for some development options.
After hearing that report at a July meeting, the board set up the planning committee to investigate all the options.
The museum’s current campus is centered around the Cooke House on School and Cooke streets, an 18th-century colonial house acquired by the Dukes County Historical Society in 1932, a decade after its formation.
The collection of buildings in Edgartown’s historic district has been acquired piece-by-piece as the collection expanded and surrounding property became available. But current space limitations mean 90 per cent of the collection is not on display and many of the larger objects in the collection are kept in a shed on the campus in uncontrolled conditions.