OPINION: Fired San Angelo Museum Director Offers a Tearful Goodbye


OPINION — I wanted to thank you for your leadership and support as we worked in lockstep to solve some complex challenges over this past year. As a seasoned museum professional, I poured all of my training and experience into improving this fine organization. Moreover, I was honored to continue a legacy of greatness that began under Howard Taylor.

This Saturday, September 2nd, my beloved sister Melinda’s birthday, the $1.18 million dollar copper roof replacement will be finished. Melly sacrificed her life as a front-line nurse in Central Florida during the height of the pandemic - she visited me from heaven in a dream and inspired me to write this message. This roof replacement ended over three years of water leaks inside the museum and is just one of the many accomplishments that I’d like to highlight today.

Our time began almost one year to this day when I unpacked and dove headlong into understanding the culture of the museum and the community. Since then I’ve had wonderful interactions with thousands of San Angeloans that outshine the scant unpleasant ones. I also met dozens of talented artists and potters who make this city the Visual Arts Capital of Texas. My goal from that day on was to create the highest quality museum experience for our visitors and the best workplace in San Angelo for our staff.

I found through research that we can definitively say that we have the best collection of Contemporary Ceramics anywhere in the nation. Indeed, through our relationship with the Chicken Farm Art Center and Angelo State University, we’ve turned the city into a Mecca for the ceramic community.

SAMFA provides 33,000 high-quality art educational experiences annually. That type of community impact is rare in a city this size. We developed new fundraising streams that integrated STARBASE at Goodfellow Air Force Base with the Concho Clay Studio, Education Studio, and our Collections. This is the first time these entities had ever worked together. Additionally, we’ve more purposefully connected our visiting artists and musicians with community engagement opportunities such as critiques and master classes. Connecting the education teams together under one Education Director should be a future goal.

In just a short year, our collection has grown by leaps and bounds, and we finally moved a memorandum of understanding regarding a shared collection storage and conservation lab with the Fort Concho Historical Site and the City of San Angelo from draft to signed contract. This idea had been shelved for several years and we got it done. Through the support of the Health Foundation, we were able to revise our plan and secure the funding to begin the first phase of the building walls and entryways.

Construction is set to begin any day if it hasn’t already. Curator Laura Huckaby and I traveled to Texas Tech to engage in a discussion with the university about a degree program through Angelo State University in preservation and conservation. Turning the facility into a teaching space was a high priority for me. Back at home, we took a portion of our roof settlement to soft pack and palletize our entire collection of 2,000 objects to prepare for our roof replacement project ensuring their safety.

Our business office was wickedly complex and we began the process of cleaning up our core documents, strategizing around fundraising and retiring our debt. Using our roof settlement in January, we were able to pay off our $1.7 million line of credit. That accomplishment alone is worthy of celebration! Challenges persisted though. We needed to fix our by-laws, create board books, and engage in a productive retreat that focused on fundraising. Indeed, through our concerted efforts, we raised $24,000 more than the previous year at San Angelo Gives. We also increased our membership from $2,000 in all of 2022 to $11,000 from January to July 2023 alone. Individual contributions increased dramatically from the previous year as we began to see bigger gifts after donors supported a new vision for the future. We’ve applied new donor tracking data in our Constituent Relationship Management tool, ensuring we personalize and timely thank every single donor, and created a culture of data collection and analysis.

The budgeting process is always fraught with balancing hope and reality. Our process was particularly byzantine and challenging since our account codes needed cleaning up and we hadn’t passed a voted-on budget since 2015 - at least, that’s what I could ascertain from the minutes and conversations with our bookkeeper. David Harlow and I engaged in many hours of meetings to create a budget that is both understandable by the Board and informed and managed by the department heads. We were very close to crossing the finish line and the process should be easier going forward in 2024 budget planning.

We conducted a number of audits and strategic planning sessions during the year. We began a technology audit to see what kind of infrastructure, communications, and security needs we should address. We successfully migrated everyone with a SAMFA email address to Microsoft 365 which has incredibly enhanced both our security and productivity. Understanding the importance of the role the Concho Clay Studio plays in the local and national ceramic conversation, we created a town hall where we harnessed small group activities to create more robust mission and vision statements that will guide and benefit the community for years to come. Additionally, we conducted desktop audits to place employees in more appropriate positions and encourage those who weren’t the right fit to seek other opportunities. We worked on a new organizational chart and employee manual to clarify and protect our greatest resource - our staff.

Texas is a right to work state and I accept the fact that the SAMFA Board of Trustees have voted to terminate my employment as of August 31, 2023. However, I believe I’ve practiced sound and ethical judgment throughout the year and over my career. I even started a consulting business today to help others use systems thinking to digitally transform their workplaces. When the August 9, 2023 press release stated that Howard Taylor was officially retiring because he and the board supported my leadership, I felt confident that my tenure would be long and fruitful. I wish you luck as you search for a new leader and hope some of the ideas I’ve planted will continue to improve the Museum, Concho Valley, and beyond. Thanks for encouraging me to write this Melly - your heroism inspires me daily.

Alex Freeman
AVFreeman Consulting
[email protected]

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