RALEIGH, N.C. — With the economy stretching the resources of people and nonprofits alike, Wade Carmichael’s background in the historical aspects of the arts is giving him some perspective as he takes over the Raleigh City Museum.
“These cycles do come and if we study the process that’s come before, we can understand there are these bumps in the road,” he says of the faltering economy. “With a vocabulary of past events, one is better able to assess how we might proceed.”
Carmichael took over as executive director of the museum in downtown Raleigh Sept. 2, succeeding Dianne Davidian, who retired after two years at the helm.
His first step will be to take stock of the museum, and the environment as a whole, reassessing what the organization needs to do compared to what it would like to do, he says.
To that end, Carmichael is conducting an inventory of the museum, looking for ways to “strengthen and polish up” existing assets, including older presentations, rather than jumping into major new productions that would entail construction costs and other additional expenses.
That approach is echoed by the museum’s board chair, Brian Reece, owner of Karnes Research Company.
“We need to tighten up our operations so we’re not going to our donors for large lumps of money,” he says. “Times are tough and will continue to get tough and funds will be dwindling.”
Reece says Carmichael is the person to lead the museum through this difficult period.
“Wade has the expertise and fundraising experience to really pursue and identify possibilities and to open new doors for the museum,” he says.
For starters, Carmichael is looking at extending some existing exhibits. In addition to the museum’s new exhibit on the media, he will be keeping open the higher-education exhibit, which he says has had a positive response from visitors.
“We’ll be stretching the calendar rather than cutting it,” he says.
He also is looking into partnerships with other nonprofit groups downtown, he says, “to see if there are ways we can pull together and trudge through these next few months or years to make this process more endurable.”
The museum, which has four paid staffers and an annual budget of about $400,000, lured 22,000 visitors last year, up from 13,000 in 2006.
Carmichael comes to the Raleigh City Museum from Charlotte, where he served as a consultant to groups like the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte and the Upcountry History Museum in Greenville, S.C.
Prior to his consulting career, he served as executive director of the Charlotte Museum of History and Hezekiah Alexander Homesite for nine years.
And after receiving his education in art history and historic painting techniques, he worked with the Indiana State Museum for more than seven years.
In addition to challenges posed by the current economy, he says, keeping up with changing public expectations is critical for the museum.
“The threshold of the public has shifted with media and events,” he says. “There’s a higher bar to compete with what’s going on out there and I can see that becoming more of a Wild West situation as everyone will be clamoring for attention.”
So in an upcoming strategic-planning effort, the museum will look at how it can raise the bar in terms of its presentation and image to compete successfully for the public’s attention.
Fundraising also will be a focus in the coming months, but the museum will need to be mindful of the overall economic uncertainty, Carmichael says.
“We need to posture ourselves to provide better accountability with our potential donors and that requires that we reemphasize and rededicate ourselves to the public trust,” he says.
Gaining support is more important than ever, he says, but “we can be more sensitive and rational in how we make that appeal and we have a public trust we need to honor.”
“It’s a curious time to step into the pool,” he says. “But the best thing for us to do is acknowledge where we are and make a plan to move forward.”