Tag Archives: state museum

Museum board boss: No more emailing

The chair of the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission, Tom Smith, has informed all fellow members that they should no longer email each other, about anything, at any time, reports Nashville Post Politics.

“It has come to my attention that one or more Commission members have been communicating with other Commission members by e-mail,” Smith wrote (in an email) last week. “Per my conversations with the Attorney General’s office these e-mail communications could be viewed as discussions and/or deliberations in violation of Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act and otherwise foster a perception of a lack of transparency by this public body.

“Accordingly, in order to ensure that we are in full compliance with Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act, as Chairman, I am directing that that there be no further email communications between and among members of this Commission in their capacity as members of this Commission,” Smith added (emphasis his).
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Ashe, Haslam differ on museum donation disclosure

Though a recent state attorney general opinion says donors to a $40 million fundraising campaign for the Tennessee State Museum can be kept secret, Gov. Bill Haslam — who is leading the campaign — says the names should be made public, but not the exact amount of each contribution.

The governor’s position, relayed through spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals, is criticized as “a half-baked disclosure” and likened to “being a little bit pregnant” by Victor Ashe, a former Knoxville mayor and U.S. ambassador to Poland who is a member both of the board overseeing museum operations and the Tennessee Coalition on Open Government, which advocates transparency in governmental operations.

It is the latest spinoff in a long-running series of clashes over museum management and tangential issues between Ashe and fellow members of the museum oversight board, officially known as the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission. It does appear to be a first in that Ashe is directly differing with the governor, who is also a former Knoxville mayor.

The clashes continue otherwise, though the initial objective of Ashe’s two-year crusade on museum matters — replacement of Lois Riggins-Ezzell as the museum’s executive director — was apparently achieved last week.

Haslam and the commission’s current chairman, Thomas S. Smith of Nashville, announced Thursday the retirement effective Dec. 31 of Riggins-Ezzell, 76, who has served 35 years in the position. Ashe had accused Riggins-Ezzell of mismanagement, favoritism toward friends in acquiring museum exhibits and other faults.

Haslam said last week that “Lois has given her heart and soul to telling Tennessee’s story and showcasing its rich history” during her tenure, which has seen the museum expand from basement housing with six employees to a 42-employee operation with a $3.8 million annual budget and housing on three floors of the James K. Polk State Office Building, located a block from the state capitol.

At Haslam’s request, the Legislature has authorized construction of a new $160 million museum in a stand-alone building, scheduled to open in December of 2018. The money will come from $120 million in taxpayer funds with the remaining $40 million to be raised in private donations, with the governor spearheading the fundraising efforts. Continue reading

Lois Riggins-Ezzell, TN State Museum director, retiring

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam announced Thursday that Lois Riggins-Ezzell, the longtime director of the Tennessee State Museum, is retiring at the end of the year.

Riggins-Ezzell first became the museum’s director in 1981, when it had a staff of six people working in a basement of the War Memorial Building. She oversaw the museum’s transition into its current space in the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, where it employs 42 employees and has an annual budget of $3.8 million, not counting private donations.

The retirement comes as the state is spending $120 million to build a new museum north of the Tennessee Capitol in Nashville, with another $40 million being raised from private sources.

A state attorney general’s opinion issued last week found that the Tennessee State Museum Foundation that is raising the private money is not required to disclose its donors under the state’s open records laws.

Riggins-Ezzell had previously said she wanted to remain in charge of the museum until the new facility is complete in 2018, and raised eyebrows around the state Capitol when she declared to a reporter last year that “I am the museum.” Continue reading

State museum moves, slowly, toward semi-replacement of Riggins-Ezzell

Eleven months after the decision was made to replace Lois Riggins-Ezzell, 76, as the longtime executive director of the Tennessee State Museum, there is finally a tentative timeline for the future hire to start as work toward a new $160 million state-of the-art museum building is underway.

In a comprehensive Nashville Post update on the the museum situation, Cari Wade Gervin also reports the new tentative timeline is already behind schedule, that initial efforts in seeking applicants for the new executive director’s position drew little or no response and that management experts think it’s a really bad idea to keep Riggins-Ezell on the job after her successor is hired, as planned.

An excerpt: Continue reading

TN State Museum given 238 works by artist Red Grooms

News release from Tennessee State Museum
NASHVILLE — July 11, 2016 — The Tennessee State Museum is pleased to announce that it has entered into a promised gift agreement with Walter and Sarah Knestrick of Nashville to receive a donation of 238 graphic artworks created by internationally acclaimed artist Red Grooms. Additionally, the museum will receive 52 commercially printed posters as part of the gift.

Grooms, who was born and raised in Nashville, currently resides in New York City and maintains a home near Beersheba Springs, TN. His work has been exhibited in museums and galleries across the United States, as well as in Europe, and Japan. Grooms’ art is included in the collections of more than 39 museums, including the State Museum.

Knestrick, the retired founder of Walter Knestrick Contractor, Inc. and a longtime friend of the State Museum, was a boyhood classmate of Grooms. He began collecting Grooms’ prints in the 1970s and has helped organize traveling exhibitions of the works since the 1980s. Continue reading

Theft from state museum brings 20-year sentence

A Nashville judge has sentenced a former Tennessee State Museum employee who stole more than $60,000 to 20 years in prison, according to the Tennessean.

Kathy Alexander, 61, must serve nine of those years before she can be considered for release. She pleaded guilty Tuesday to a charge of theft of more than $60,000, and three other charges were dismissed.

The case came to light in August 2014. The Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury issued a report about the theft from the museum and called for more oversight of the purchasing role for the museum.

The report noted that the state’s contract with Adecco USA, a staffing agency that hired Alexander three years before she began working at the museum, did not require temporary or contract employees to undergo background checks.

Assistant District Attorney Jim Milam, who prosecuted the case, said Alexander at the time had 10 prior fraud convictions in Georgia. She also had been sentenced in 2003 to 12 years in a Tennessee prison for stealing more than $84,000 from Habitat for Humanity in Nashville, Milam said.

“Because of Kathy Alexander’s prior criminal history, the appropriate sentence for her is going to the penitentiary,” he said.

Museum board opens meeting on ‘succession planning’

In a change of plans, the board overseeing the Tennessee State Museum will hold an open meeting for discussion of procedures in selection of a new museum executive director rather closing the session to the public.

Tom Smith of Nashville, who chairs a museum board committee on “succession planning,” initially announced the March 28 “workshop” would last eight hours and would be held behind closed doors.

That brought a protest last month from former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, a member of the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission as well as the board of directors for the Tennessee Coalition on Open Government, and Smith recently notified members that the plan had been changed.

“We are retooling the session to take out the items related to all museum personnel and instead just have a session related to strengths we envision in a new executive director,” Smith wrote in an email. “Since we won’t be working on all of the museum’s personnel analysis we can and will make this an ‘open meeting’ and all who care to can attend.”

Ashe, a former U.S. ambassador to Poland, lauded the change.
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Ashe protests closing of museum board ‘workshop’

Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, recently appointed to the board of directors of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, is protesting a closed meeting planned by another board where he serves as a member.

The board governing the Tennessee State Museum, officially known as the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission, has scheduled an eight-hour “workshop” March 28 on selection of a new museum executive director to succeed Lois Riggins-Ezzell at some point.

In an exchange of email with Tom Smith of Nashville, who chairs a museum board committee on “succession planning” that set up the workshop, Ashe said the meeting should be open to the public. Smith said that it should not and suggested Ashe was being unreasonably critical. Ashe provided a copy of the email exchange to a reporter.
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Fundraising for new museum to begin in January

With Gov. Bill Haslam leading the way, officials say an effort to raise $42 million for construction of a new $160 million Tennessee State Museum will begin in January — somewhat later than originally suggested.

Haslam will act as chairman of the fundraising drive and is striving to recruit “co-chairs” to assist in the endeavor, according to Mark Cate, who serves as project director for building a state museum, and Jennifer Donnals, the governor’s press secretary.

The governor, perhaps in conjunction with other members of Haslam family, is widely expected to make a significant contribution to the fundraising effort himself. The fundraising campaign launch will be outlined at a Jan. 11 Tennessee State Museum Commission meeting, officials indicated.

A separate non-profit organization, the Tennessee State Museum Foundation, is in charge of the actual fundraising operation. It has contracted with Cate, who previously served as Haslam’s chief of staff and now is a partner in a consulting firm known as Stones River Group, to serve as project coordinator. The lead fundraisers are Emily Reynolds, who has previously worked for the U.S. Senate and TVA, and Kim Kaegi, who has raised millions in political donations to Tennessee Republican politicians, including Haslam.

At Haslam’s urging, the Legislature in April approved $120 million in state funding for a museum with the expectation of $40 million being raised from private sources to cover the projected cost of $160 million.

In a July meeting, officials said about $1.75 million will be needed to cover fundraising costs and administrative expenses for a total of almost $42 million in private donations required. At that meeting, Cate and others suggested fundraising could begin in November or December, but the launch has been pushed back as arrangements were completed — including an architect’s model of the new building.

“Most of the time so far has been spent working with the architect/exhibit design firms on the concept so that we can produce appropriate collateral material for fundraising” Cate said in an email. “We’ve also spent time researching fundraising efforts across the state to gain insight into potential prospects — individuals, corporations and foundations. And of course we’ve been putting the data processing infrastructure in place as well.”

At the Jan. 11 commission meeting — held a day before the Legislature begins its 2016 session — officials are also expected to outline a plan for selecting a new executive director of the museum to succeed Lois Riggins-Ezell, who has held the position since 1981.

Museum housing art owned by museum board member

The Tennessee State Museum houses nearly 200 works of art owned by a member of the State Museum Commission, which oversees the museum, reports WTVF.

The arrangement has raised concerns from another commission member about whether taxpayers are paying to store privately owned art — despite limited space and staff at the museum.

Commissioner Walter Knestrick is a longtime collector of the works of Tennessee artist Red Grooms. Many of the Grooms paintings that he owns are located at the Tennessee State Museum.

“Taxpayers should not pay for the storage for paintings which are privately held and no date for a final donation has been determined,” Commissioner Victor Ashe told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

But the longtime executive director of the Tennessee State Museum, Lois Riggins-Ezzell, passionately defended the arrangement.

Riggins-Ezzell disputed criticism from Ashe, but was occasionally told to watch her comments by the museum’s media relations person who sat in on the interview.

“There’s no bad use of public money,” Riggins-Ezzell insisted. “There’s no bad use of manipulating a system to help an old rich man.”

…Victor Ashe told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, “Taxpayers should not pay for the staff time to select and package privately owned items out of state.”

Riggins-Ezzell responded, “I certainly have great respect for the concerns Mr. Ashe may have. We simply are seldom on the same page.”

…Riggins-Ezell said the museum is fortunate that Knestrick loaned the art to the museum and is now in talks to gift them.

“What a gift this is for the citizens of Tennessee. Who would want for the citizens of Tennessee not to have this in perpetuity?”” Riggins-Ezzell asked.

But currently there is no written agreement between Knestrick and the state for him to donate the paintings.

Until that time, Ashe said, its wrong they are stored, insured and displayed at museum expense.

Riggins-Ezzell said the paintings don’t cost the state more to insure because it has a blanket policy.

She said Knestrick and the Tennessee Attorney General are working on an official agreement to donate the works of art.