Having recently completed their 2018 strategic planning all-day board meeting, South Florida Museum board members and staff are looking to a bright future for the museum in the post-Snooty era.
The coming year will see a lot of changes at the museum, including the multimillion dollar first phase of its expansion, which museum CEO Brynne Anne Besio said could begin next month. More expansion plans are on the horizon after the city deeded the land to the museum this month, allowing the museum’s newly formed nonprofit to pursue federal tax dollars.
“The expansion plan is rolling right along,” Besio said. “We are focusing on the north end for the new Mosaic Backyard Universe, which is an indoor and outdoor learning exhibition. This phase will include two new classrooms, a gathering hall with two more pop-up classrooms, renovating two classrooms and more outdoor space.”
Education is the focus of the museum’s future and ongoing strategic planning will take that into consideration, according to Jeanie Kirkpatrick, president of the board of directors.
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“We are still in our five-year plan that took many months to put together three years ago,” Kirkpatrick said. “We are always dedicated to strategic planning, but this is a time when we talk about certain parts we are focusing on so no one is losing sight of those goals and we are always tweaking it.”
Kirkpatrick said the partnership with the Manatee County School District and a growing number of other school districts across the state, “Is a good support system for all of us to go back into planning with an education focus, which becomes greater every year. It’s important to have children here to see what we have to offer. We are key to their (science, technology, engineering and math) program.”
The museum also is in its second year of its Voluntary Prekindergarten Education program. While its core group of visiting students are typically third- and fourth-graders, the VPK partnership with the museum is growing as well. Board treasurer Brian Carter said it’s a perfect example of the museum’s long-term plan.
“Five years ago we didn’t even know we could do it,” Carter said. “A non-profit is no different than a corporation when it comes to strategic planning. We, like every other business, have a goal and a plan to achieve our goals.”
Kirkpatrick said the relationship between the board and staff has never been stronger. While the board makes the decisions, Kirkpatrick said Besio and her staff are the “real leaders. It’s important that the board listens to staff. They deal with it seven days a week. We don’t know everything that is happening without hearing it from them. We trust this group of talented people.”
The near future
The tragic drowning of Snooty in July, which led to the former Parker Aquarium director’s departure in August, left many questions about the museum’s future. The emotional toll of losing Snooty was big, but the museum continues to thrive.
Besio said it may take a few more years to determine the final impact of Snooty’s death, “Or we may never know. I can say we are having an attendance that we would expect this time of year. We had a lull during Hurricane Irma, but the people are coming back, and we are still seeing a lot of people from other states. We’ve had people that initially came to see Snooty but then caught a show in the planetarium and now they come just for that. We offer a lot of things here.”
Besio said a new aquarium director is “coming soon” to head the museum’s manatee rehabilitation program, which is essentially Snooty’s legacy.
More is to come in the near future, including the museum’s Pathways concept, developed in-house by Jeff Rodgers, the museum’s provost and chief operating officer. The concept takes usable technology and shows how every item in the museum is connected in one way or the other. The user can get multiple unique museum experiences by taking different pathways.
“The pathways program is getting close to rolling out,” Kirkpatrick said. “In December, we’ll take a walk through and it will be fun to see it in action.”
Snooty will always be a part of the museum and the community as was evidenced this past weekend at the well-attended annual Snooty gala.
“He’s definitely in our thoughts all the time,” Kirkpatrick said. “We miss him terribly, but it’s because of him we have this fabulous manatee rehabilitation program that is going strong.”
The fact remains that losing a key component for any one of the nation’s 38,000 museums can have an impact. And Snooty was a part of South Florida Museum for virtually its entire existence. But the people are coming and the community remains steadfastly committed, officials say.
“We have a 70-year track record of being solvent and an organization that moves forward,” Besio said. “Our advantage is we are a general natural museum. We change exhibits often and have our planetarium shows. When people come, they want to see something new so we are always looking ahead.”
Carter said the South Florida Museum has been fortunate to have a 70-year history of strong leadership that has always been fiscally responsible.
“We only spend what we have,” Carter said. “We operate debt free and we’ve got a healthy reserve to provide continued changing opportunities to the community that supports us.”