An Interview with Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum President Kristen Greenaway
Jul 21, 2015 09:00AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
You’ve now been president of CBMM for one year; how would you sum your first year on the job and what has been the most challenging aspect/most rewarding?The entire experience has been quite wonderful. I still start my day with a song in my heart. My family and I are also hugely grateful to the entire community for making us feel so welcome. In fact, one night coming home from an event at the Academy of Art Museum, our then seven-year-old son remarked from the dark back seat, “I just love this new life that I’m creating for myself!”
We have achieved a great deal in this first year. Soon after I joined CBMM, I gave a great deal of thought to ways the museum could better partner with its local and regional communities, and in turn become a real resource for those communities. Thus strengthening relationships with these communities was a key focus when I started, and I believe the partnerships that have evolved are testaments to the benefits we can all create by working supportively and creatively together.
Planning for our 50th anniversary [CBMM was founded in 1965] has acted as a catalyst, and I take a great deal of pride in establishing a CBMM Friends Board—a group or 25 or so individuals who also have their local and regional communities at heart—who can help guide the museum in its endeavors to strengthen its partnerships and develop new ones.
Also extremely rewarding has been developing a strong partnership with the museum’s board and staff. The board is fully engaged and hugely supportive of the plans we have for the future. My team is outstanding. A key responsibility of mine and my development team, is finding the resources we need to help staff achieve their goals, whether that be delivering complete Wi-Fi across campus, renovating the historic 1879 Hooper Strait Lighthouse, building a three-log canoe—the first since 1977—designing and presenting highly professional exhibitions, and feeding our resident museum cat, Edna Sprit!
What aspects of directing depts. of an art museum in previous roles have translated to your position today how do the two types of museums differ (or do they)?Senior management experience—right across the board, and through my entire career—is probably a key factor. I have worked hard for many years to help my staff realize their professional career goals, whether at the institution we are working at, or in the future. Working at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University helped me appreciate that museums were truly where I was most happy. At the Nasher—and in many previous positions—I was in charge of development, marketing, events, and visitor services, thus I bring an overall eye to the guest experience, how to market that experience, and most importantly, how to find the financial resources to keep it all alive.
Also, hanging around curators for six years has really honed my concept of what makes a good looking exhibition, from the objects on display to navigating the interpretive experience. The Nasher is the #1 university museum in the U.S., if not the world, for the exhibitions it originates and travels. Working in that environment has been extremely beneficial to working at CBMM.
North Carolina, New York, San Diego, Rotterdam, London, New Zealand, among other locales; how does your world perspective/education fit within the context of a hyper-local/cultural institution such as CBMM?Wherever I have lived, for me, has always been about a sense of place—how to discover the sense of place that a country or city has created for itself, and then developing my own sense of place in relation to that, the longer I have lived in that place. Perhaps this is a part of being born and raised in New Zealand—a sense of place there is very strong: we have a phrase—“tangata whenua”—the people of the land, a concept heavily imbued in each Kiwi, and one I take with me where ever I live. And perhaps this is why I now feel so at home on the Eastern Shore and at CBMM—a very large part of our mission is working to preserve and explore the history, environment, and people of the Chesapeake Bay—which is all about discovering a sense of place.
What do you envision CBMM’s role in the community being and what progress do you foresee in the coming year(s), be it programs, personnel, and/or infrastructure?I mentioned earlier the importance of CBMM’s role as a community partner, and this is a key focus for me. We are in discussions with a wide range of organizations on the Eastern Shore on how we can achieve this, with a central program planned for launch in mid-August. I look forward to being able to discuss that in more detail with our partners when the opportunity arises. But in a nutshell, it’s building on the resources we have here at the museum—access to the water, one of the best boatyards in the country, the largest collection of Chesapeake Bay watercraft in the world, and incredible staff, and volunteers. And to achieve the programs we’re currently working on, we will need to grow appropriate staff and resources.
As a feature of this, I am very excited that in just a few weeks we’ll be launch a summer boat rental program. Again, giving our guests the opportunity to get out on the water and experience the Bay for themselves. We’ll be offering rowing dinghies, sailing boats, and kayaks.
Is there any one object or exhibit in the museum’s collection that most fascinates you?Golly, that’s a really hard question! And over 60,000 objects to choose from! I have two, one being the workbench and tools from Downes Curtis’ sail loft, which never cease to inspire me. Curtis’ workbench and tools are one of the 50 objects that we have included in our new exhibition and catalogue A Broad Reach: 50 Years of Collecting. Representing the art of traditional, hand-crafted sailmaking, Oxford native Curtis learned sailmaking as a youth from the town’s old English sailmaker, David Pritchard. When Pritchard died, his African-American apprentice, Curtis, took over the business. After rescuing most of his tools from a 1943 fire, Curtis moved his shop to the town’s former black schoolhouse, where he continued working until his death in 1996. Curtis built sails for some of the area’s best racing yachtsmen, including a number of log canoe sailors. And Curtis—the man and his tools—also helps represent the hugely important role of the African American community in the maritime heritage of the Chesapeake Bay.
And our log canoes are the other objects in the museum’s collection that just fascinate me. As a child I admired the old photographs of the log canoes working and racing, and now here I am! We really are the only maritime museum that is restoring, preserving, and racing log canoes. The log canoes represent a hugely important part of our mission, and the history of the Chesapeake Bay. And just a few weeks ago we launched a three-log canoe we had built, the first log canoe built since 1977. So we’re keeping not just the concept of the log canoe alive, but also the traditional skills of the actual building. And racing these boats is something out of this world!