As many of you know, we spend a lot of time learning about Napa County's nonprofit sector--we conduct more than 200 site visits a year with agencies and programs to hear what they are doing, how they are doing it and what their needs are.
One of our favorite parts of those conversations is getting to know the leaders of local organizations. For instance, hearing about how they landed in the nonprofit sector, what they want the community to know about their work, and why they stick with it. So, we've decided to share highlights of those conversations with you, from time to time, in this newsletter.
We recently talked with Kristie Sheppard, who is Executive Director for the Napa Valley Museum (NVM).
NVM was started in the early 1970s by community members interested in showcasing the Valley's cultural and natural history. In 1998, the nonprofit opened its museum on the grounds of the Veterans Home in Yountville, where it operates today and offers a variety of exhibitions and stand-alone cultural events, like guest artist speakers or art-house films or documentaries.
Kristie made her debut on Napa County's arts and culture scene in 2006, when she took the Executive Director position at the Napa County Historical Society. She has a master's degree in museum studies from the University of Leicester (England), and a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Central Florida. Prior to coming to Napa, Kristie worked at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, PA. Kristie joined NVM as Executive Director in 2011.
NVCF: NVM's programs cover a variety of areas. What's your elevator pitch when meeting with someone who doesn't know about the Museum's work?
Kristie: NVM is a community museum that focuses on art, history and the environment, and works to present, preserve and promote those things in the Napa Valley. When the museum started in 1972, we started as a museum to preserve the culture of the Valley and, over time, that focus broadened to meeting more needs in the community.
NVCF: What's the appeal of arts management?
Kristie: Aside from caring about culture and history, I think especially nowadays, with the current school curriculum, people aren't necessarily looking at the arts as a valuable part of our lives, or our society, and that comes in a variety of ways--the financial investment, peoples' attendance at museums, and federal government support.
Napa is really unique in that some (not enough) TOT money supports the arts sector, and that is a step in the right direction. People in this community don't necessarily think about a museum as a destination, as a place to go for fun. NVM is working on that, we have our Family Fun days, where we give adults and children opportunities to interact in some sort of creative way, whether it's creating Lego cars or Valentine's Day cards. I enjoy the challenge of showing people how the arts are an integral part of our society, the challenge of preserving and sharing the arts--whether it's music, theater or whatever--and the challenge of getting people to understand the importance of investing in the arts.
NVCF: What are the challenges of history museums in particular?
Kristie: A lot of people don't think of their lives as history, and so don't think about the importance of documenting and capturing life now. So, history museums, especially ones in younger communities, have difficulty building collections because of that. NVM is working with the Town of Yountville's 50th anniversary celebration and we're putting together a historical display that focuses on the last 50 years since the Town incorporated, and there is very little physical history that has been saved or documented--but there will be, after we are finished with the project! We need to start collecting current history so we have, for example, record of Napa's largest earthquake, or Bill Dodd's election to the California State Assembly.
NVCF: You came into Napa County's arts sector in 2006, during a really difficult time when venues, nonprofits and galleries were shuttering. How have things changed?
Kristie: There were too many arts organizations, there still may be. And, I think things have strengthened quite a bit. There's a tighter network amongst the arts and culture organizations. I feel like we are at a point now where we are communicating and able to work more collaboratively. Working collaboratively is really challenging, but the right dynamics have to be in place for it to be possible, and it wasn't possible before, and now it is--Arts In April is a great example of how we are working together now. Organizations also are taking advantage of resources Arts Council Napa Valley offers, and capacity building dollars available through the County's grant program funded by TOT.
NVCF: In the four years that you've been Executive Director of NVM, what's been the biggest change in the organization?
Kristie: Our response to the community has changed a lot. We've been working really hard (and hopefully the community agrees) to not just be "the museum on the hill," but instead staying in touch with the community and creating partnerships with community groups and nonprofit organizations and building exhibits and programs based on what people are interested in and want to see and come to.
We've completely changed the way we evaluate the types of exhibitions we will bring to NVM. We look at attendance, how many people participate in programs (but don't come to the exhibit), how many new members we acquire during a particular exhibit. We also conduct periodic surveys about what people want to see, and in a recent survey we learned that community members wanted to see more programs about the environment, so we've added that into the mix for this year. We still have work to do in this area [of understanding what the public wants], but the improvements we've made to-date are a big point of progress for NVM.
NVCF: We've seen NVM's exhibition calendar broaden quite a bit--everything from a Legos exhibit, to Miles Davis's artwork--some very interesting shows for a semi-rural community. How do you make those happen?
Kristie: Through partnerships. We have a really good relationship with a publisher of art books, and they help us a lot with exhibits--such as our Guy Webster exhibition--so our exhibitions are an outlet to promote their books and are also a crowd pleaser. Also, our partnership with Arts Council of Napa Valley allowed us to put together the Napa Valley Collects exhibition that features private art collections from the Valley.
Research is a big part of it also. This is NVM's second year of the Lego exhibition, but before we brought it in, we were trying to figure out what we could bring in that would be family friendly. Our staff brainstormed, and came up with a few ideas that we decided wouldn't work. Then I just did a Google search on "things kids love," and Legos pops up, we thought, "Of course!" Everybody loves Legos and can relate to it, including adults.
NVCF: What's your favorite story of how an unlikely exhibit came to NVM?
Kristie: A friend of one of our staff suggested an exhibit of Wayne Thiebaud's work because she really likes his stuff, so we researched it and found that Sacramento State has a big collection of his work. We called and asked if we could borrow it, and they were game. I love it when exhibits fall into place like that.