When Saginaw's historic Saginaw Art Museum was spiraling into a financial tailspin last Fall with talk of possibly closing the architectural crown jewel of the Ring Home in which the museum is located, a group of community leaders rallied together to re-establish fiduciary responsibility and secure the future of this pivotal cultural resource and the rare irreplaceable works of art populating its permanent collection for posterity.
One of the first orders of business was to select a new Director for the SAM, and someone to oversee its permanent collection of art & artifacts that is now in excess of 1700 pieces, spanning 4,500 years of art history; and in February of this year The Executive Board of Directors appointed Stacey Gannon to fill this pivotal role.
Gannon was born and raised in Saginaw and is a personable and enthusiastic champion of the arts with over 33 years of experience in the banking industry, mostly at Second National and then Citizen's Bank, where she served as President. A recognized and respected leader with a passion for our cultural landscape, according to Paul W. Furlo, Chairman of the Saginaw Art Museum Board of Directors, “We are delighted to have identified such a dynamic leader with extensive financial management experience, deep non-profit organizational knowledge, and a sincere commitment to fulfill our mission.”
With approximately 8-weeks at the helm thus far, recently The Review sat down with Gannon for an in-depth and focused interview about Gannon's own background, what she envisions for the future at The Saginaw Art Museum, and the challenges and goals she has set to shepherd this priceless institution into the colorful and vibrant embrace of the future.
Review: Given your professional background as a former President at Citizen's Bank and Vice-President at PNC Wealth Management, I can't think of a better candidate to oversee the fiscal health of the Saginaw Art Museum, but why don't you tell our readers more about your personal background and what you feel that brings to your new position at the Museum?.
Gannon: I was born and raised in Saginaw and my maiden name is Weadock. My great great Grandfather was the first mayor of the consolidated Saginaw when the East & West side came together, and he was a friend of Clark Ring, who was alderman for the 15th district at the time, so I have a special connection to the Ring Home, which houses the art museum, as well as the community. I've worked in Saginaw my entire career and married a Midland boy, but have always worked here. Saginaw is in my heart and while eventually my family moved to the Township, I spent my childhood days with my best friend riding a tandem all around Saginaw, from Immerman Park to Sullivan's on the East side, played tennis every day at Garber Courts, swam at the Andersen pool, so I have a special connection to the city and love it dearly. I'm thrilled to be a part of this.
My mother was a Krogman, so I had family on both sides that have been involved in Saginaw growing up. Honestly, when I went to college I wanted to be an interior designer and express my creative side, but out of survival I got a co-op job in banking and stayed there for 33 years, working in financial services my entire career, the bulk at Citizen's Bank. Really, I've reached a stage in my life where I wanted to do something that allowed me to be more entrenched in the Saginaw community, so this is probably the first intentional job I've had in my entire life. I've served on the Matrix Board at the Midland Center for the Arts and worked on the Young Musician Award with the Saginaw Symphony, so I've wanted to do this for a long time. This directorship is the perfect fit for my life right now.
Review: One of the best things to happen out of the financial turmoil that plagued the Museum last year is a new organizational structure that protects endowments and trust funds. As the new Director, what are your primary goals right now under this new organizational structure?
Gannon: I don't wish to speak to the past because we've really crossed that, but as for this new organizational structure, it now has a Directorship organization as opposed to a membership driven one, which is structured beautifully to what we need to accomplish. First, I feel the museum belongs to the community and want to deliver what the community expects out of it. I want to see it as a hub of arts & culture in the community. With the restructuring the Board of Directors took on the fiduciary and operational responsibility for the organization and removed that concern and worry from the Advisory Board, so their focus can be on programming, membership, exhibits, and the cultural aspect of what we want to look like. With the help of philanthropists in the community stepping forward, we've been able to stabilize the museum financially and put together a broad plan to achieve sustainability as an organization.
That said, with my financial background and understanding of the fiscal aspects of running the museum, my first priority is to focus on grant writing for the first few months and reach out to the foundations. I'm also working closely with the advisory board and have framed in a business plan for the advisory board that centers on three pillars. The core business is our permanent collection, so I want to focus on how to best leverage and showcase that fantastic collection that we own. And to me the grandest part of the collection is the Ring Home itself. Sometimes we forget and think only about the fine art within the structure, but the home is the centerpiece of the collection, so I want to focus on the infrastructure and shoring up the physical plan - fixing the windows and making sure the museum is energy efficient. Then I want to work with the Advisory Board to determine how to best use this wonderful gift we have. Some of our pieces we may want to trade or rotate, or there might be new pieces of art we wish to acquire. I've said to the advisory board, think of this as a blank canvas. Don't be concerned with how much it costs or what it takes to accomplish, throw it up and extract what we want to be. Focus on those things with the most impact that we know we can do successfully. On either side of that pillar is supporting the local artist community, defining it any way we want - regionally, locally, Midwest, medium specific; but also how to support it with education and classes. Do we want an artist studio? What artists do we feature and how do we support and encourage them? These are things we are focusing upon.
The other pillar is featured exhibits - what do we want to bring to the museum that nobody's seen before? Another pillar is collaboration - who are we working with and what other entities can benefit to accomplish the goal; and with education, what are we walking away with that we didn't have before as a result? I'm working with the Advisory Board to fill in the gaps and say 'What do we want these pillars to look like?' To my mind we can measure it simply in terms of people and dollars - how many people did our work impact and how many people did it take to pull together?
When I talk about dollars I mean how much does the exhibit cost to assemble; what kind of funding is available; does the event need some kind of sponsorship? Mainly the goal is to deliver a quality experience for whatever audience we are trying to reach, along with the community in general.
We need to focus and build on our membership and give it a voice, so I see my role as the promoter and facilitator - making sure whatever it is we're doing is credible, positive, and has impact.
Review: I'd like to explore each one of those pillars for a little bit, so let's start with membership. What are your ideas about expanding and doing outreach for new members? How do we engage the community more?
Gannon: First I believe you need to start with the existing membership base and get focus groups from throughout the community to understand what people want out of the museum. Then it's a matter of delivering what people want. And in terms of grass roots effort to increase membership, I believe that is dependent upon our ability to provide quality experiences the membership wants to see. We'll be engaging in strategic planning throughout the spring and out of that will blossom what kind of programming we want. This will start with the advisory board, but we'll also do outreach to members throughout the community.
Review: How about programming?
Gannon: Well, through the summer we'll be doing updating and renovation on the Ring Home and will stay in the discovery phase of getting community input, but after those are done we will be delivering educational experiences again.
The Randal Crawford Exhibition has just opened and is a very ambitious and extensive look at a broad cross-section of his work. That will be in place through May and then on June 6th we'll have the Art in Soil event with a focus on the garden. Our fiscal year starts August 1st and we'll be geared up by then. It's been beautiful listening to the passion and ideas percolating throughout the community. One aspect we talk about is to reach out to adolescents and young people at risk. Arts & culture are important for building qualities as they grow up, so we also want to reach out to at-risk youth. As I noted earlier, we're throwing all sorts of things against the wall.
Then we'll be participating with the big regional effort of 'Arts for All' in the Fall, with the start of the Edwina Jaques exhibition. She is from Saginaw and lives in the UK now, but engages in all variety of media and does sculpture and mosaic and watercolor. We'll be celebrating women of the Great Lakes Bay region and have identified 150 different women from across the region - a very diverse group of women who have accomplished great things and have a story to tell; along with everyday women who overcame some amazing hardships. Her artistry is beautiful and we'll be writing about each of these women, which is something we're doing in collaboration with the Castle Museum. People can also make a contribution to significant women in their life by purchasing a heart with their name that will stay on this original sculpture she creates.
Review: What about the educational component? With the museum expansion of the educational wing, a number of schools would come to the museum regularly for workshops. What are your plans on that end?
Gannon: Education will cross all three of the pillars. If we bring in a featured exhibit, education will be a part of it. Then we'll also train high school and college kids to understand the permanent collection and volunteer their time giving tours. But that's just one piece of it. Each pillar will have education attached to it, whether it's photography, sculpture, and pottery. But again, this will be born out of the strategic planning with the advisory board and the community.
Review: What about manpower and staffing. Will you be hiring more people?
Gannon: Sure, we'll add staff as necessary. A lot of it will be contract based, but part of this strategic planning is identifying what staffing needs are going to be for the museum. I envision someone from a membership and volunteer coordination standpoint being necessary, and education will also be important, so after the planning process we'll hire the best instructors that we can and do it in a fiscally responsible way. I see all kinds of different things happening. We could have ballroom dancing lessons and exhibits of ballroom dance costumes. There's been talk of bringing in a Jimi Hendrix exhibit; and with all the wonderful musicians we have in this area, we could do something in collaboration with that. There are so many neat things in this community that we can celebrate.
Review: Any final thoughts?
Gannon: I want to stay true to our mission of Art for All. We will be inclusive and diverse. This is what makes me most proud of Saginaw and the fact that ten years ago our community supported and saw the museum expand and now its time for a renaissance. There is no other fine arts collection like this around and we need to celebrate it.
This is the time to move forward and celebrate and we welcome all ideas. This museum belongs to the community and we're going to create something quite spectacular. But mainly, I want to thank the community for their passion and support.
Ultrabrication: The Art of Randal Crawford will be showing at The Saginaw Art Museum through May 10th. The Saginaw Art Museum is located at 1126 N. Michigan Ave., Saginaw. Phone 989-754-2491 for show details and to get involved.