Thursday, January 28, 2010
The Monterey Maritime Museum is searching for buried treasure, avoiding mutiny and struggling to keep the ship afloat as it navigates a 12-18 month renovation that started in January. Experts are cataloguing its paintings, period costumes and a mind-boggling array of objects now set out on the museum’s first floor. Among them: a pair of knee-high women’s cowboy boots, rusty railroad spikes, models of ships and a random piece of scrimshaw.
“I don’t think the public realizes what a mess the collection is in,” says Executive Director Pam Crowe-Weisberg, adding that staffers found rat droppings and bugs among the museum’s valuables.
The museum’s finances are equally chaotic. For years, the Monterey History and Art Association, which runs the museum, cannibalized itself, eating away at its $2 million endowment at the rate of about $30,000 a month. Today, a little more than $800,000 remains.
Todd Lueders, who heads the Community Foundation for Monterey County, says the museum’s board acted illegally. But he doesn’t think the Attorney General will take action, given the precarious financial footing of many California nonprofits and a 2010 change in the law that now allows organizations to dip into their endowments.
Crowe-Weisberg says she’s taken on an overhaul of the institution that’s left many in the community reeling. Last fall, the new director fired long-time maritime historian Tim Thomas and announced the museum would close its doors to shift from a purely seafaring focus to a broad view of Monterey history.
“I’m sure I offended people,” Crowe-Weisberg says. But she says she was hired to take a hard look at the beleaguered museum and tell the truth about what she saw.
Now, Crowe-Weisberg is hiring a staff with formal museum credentials, in hopes big contributors will open their wallets. A handful of grants are in the works, while the museum is currently renegotiating a $100,000 line of credit with First National Bank that comes due in February.
Adding to the museum’s troubles, MHAA Board Chairman John Greenwald suddenly stepped down Jan. 13. (Former Monterey planning director Bill Wojtkowski has agreed to serve as interim chair.) Monterey City Councilwoman Nancy Selfridge says one reason Greenwald resigned the chairmanship is that Crowe Weisberg, who she said earns a $75,000 salary plus $1,000 per month in living expenses, asked for a raise in a rocky economic period.
Not true, says Crowe Weisberg, adding that she did tell Greenwald she wanted to talk compensation with the Board. “I came here with one understanding, then realized we are starting from scratch… That’s as far as it went.” She calls Greenwald’s resignation “petty, undignified and damaging” to the museum.
Crowe-Weisberg wouldn’t discuss her salary or terms of employment. But she says she’s moving forward fast, with help from her husband, an expert in “crisis communications.” An all membership meeting to discuss the museum’s direction was set for Wednesday, Jan. 27.