By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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“Things are not right in here, and we want to see what we can do to see this museum prosper,” said Lester Ellis, one of the six new members of the governing board of the Museum & Arts Center, or MAC.
Saying they were frustrated by the museum’s mounting annual losses, the six placed applications at the board’s conference table during its meeting last Thursday, March 20, and then demanded a vote from existing board members.
“Your rules are beginning to fall apart on you,” said Jerry Brownfield, another new trustee.
“You haven’t been able to have a board meeting in months because you’re not fun to play with.”
After a back-and-forth of whether to vote on the new members at the time or to wait and review their applications, the existing board voted 5-3 to approve a motion by Candace Burkhardt, who was added to the board in January, to add Bud Knapp, Brownfield, Louie Rychlik, Robert Stipe, Ellis and Hazel Alt to the board.
Contention throughout the early portion of last Thursday’s meeting, though, caused two people who had put forth applications to become trustees to back out.
“I don’t want to work with this group,” Lyn Fiveash, the museum’s history exhibit manager, said in withdrawing her name from trustee consideration.
“It’s been wearing,” Hudson said of the number of emails and letter she has personally received about the MAC.
Thursday’s meeting was the first for four new trustees: photographer Ross Hamilton, 2012 Sequim Citizen of the Year Kevin Kennedy, farmer and postman John Jarvis and longtime barber Art Rodgers.
Their addition brought the museum’s board to its bylaw-minimum nine members.
MAC bylaws allow for as many as 15 members, said Bob Clark, a founder of the museum.
One of the criticisms levied by the new board members was the rotating roster of trustees, with 22 leaving the board since 2011.
“Look at what we’ve had to go through tonight,” Brownfield said.
“Anybody that wants to come in and volunteer and donate, you should be welcoming with open arms.”
Brownfield, Knapp, Rychlik, Stipe and Alt were denied positions as trustees in a vote at the MAC’s annual meeting in January.
By the end of Thursday’s meeting, though, the two sides agreed they were after the same goal.
“We are here to be a community. If we’re really going to go forward, we need to look at the positives,” said Priscilla Hudson, MAC vice president and a longtime volunteer.
“We’re all here for the same thing,” Brownfield said. “We all care about this place and want to see it survive.”
Recent years of operating losses, though, have threatened that survival.
In 2012, the museum took in $165,624 in revenue and spent $247,117, a loss of $81,493.
According to the museum’s filings with the Internal Revenue Service, the center has lost $179,609 between 2008 and 2012.
In an effort to counter the losses, the MAC instituted a $3 entry fee for its exhibit center at 175 W. Cedar St. for those 13 and older and increased the commission it charges artists who display in the museum from 25 percent to 30 percent.
The museum also shut down its Second Chance Consignment Shop last month and gave up its annual Elegant Flea Antique and Collectibles Sale after 38 years.
The new trustees said the museum should have looked at its personal costs before cutting what they called revenue-generators.
Presently, the museum has two full-time paid employees: executive director DJ Bassett and Renee Mizar, communications coordinator and executive assistant.
They took particular aim at the museum’s contract with Seattle consultants who were brought on by Bassett to try to boost revenues.
“You’re going down and you put out this money to hire somebody to tell you that?” Ellis asked.
Michael Friedline, one of the special consultants enlisted by Bassett to right the MAC’s financial ship, stressed to the new board members the importance of working with the existing trustees and staff to find new funding sources.
“There aren’t many foundations — there are a few — but not many that care about Sequim,” Friedline said.
He also advised the MAC turn to the city for help.
“I don’t think city government has stepped up,” he said. “I think they’ve gotten a free ride for 30 years.”
Bassett noted the MAC recently received $1,000 in lodging tax funds from the city to pay for cards highlighting the museum that will be placed on Washington State ferries to boost attendance.
Officers of the museum’s newly-aligned board will be elected at a special meeting April 3.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.