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State of New York State History

Did You Know that There Was a Regents Museum Advisory Council?

Did you know that there is a Regents Museum Advisory Council? It reports to the Regents Cultural Education Committee. There is a story to be told about this advisory council and its meaning for the history community.

Back on January 6, 2012, Jeff Cannell, the former Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Education, sent a letter to the Regents Cultural Education Committee proposing the creation of an advisory council. The Regents Rules provided for such a council and Cannell now sought to officially request that it be created.

Members serve by appointment by the Commissioner with approval by the Board of Regents. Members serve for a maximum of five years. The council offers advice and consultation on issues of policy and service delivery pursuant to the Board’s statutory mandate to operate the State Museum and oversee museums across New York State.

There were to be 11 people on the advisory council with staggered terms. It was intended that the council be given the resources necessary to do its job.

The Advisory Council is supported by staff from the Office of Cultural Education and the Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Education acts as the convener and chair of the council, but without vote.

 The responsibilities of the proposed advisory council outlined in Cannell’s letter are listed below. Pay special attention to the highlighted items.

Monitor and Advise. The Regents Advisory Council on Museums will monitor and advise on education programs, funding opportunities and operations of the State Museum as well as policies, long-range plans, legislative proposals and regulations affecting museums and historical societies. The Advisory Council will also monitor and advise on Federal policies regarding museums and historical societies.

Strengthen. The Regents Advisory Council will work to strengthen the programs and services of the Museum, and other programs and services of the State Education Department that affect museums and historical societies.

Communicate. The Regents Advisory Council will ensure that effective communication takes place with the Regents and the Commissioner of Education regarding museums and historical societies. The Regents Advisory Council will also ensure that effective communication takes place between the Regents and the museum community. The Regents Advisory Council will seek to build an effective consensus on all policies and programs affecting all types of museums.

Advocate. The Regents Advisory Council will act as an advocate for museums, museum staff, and museum trustees. The Council will coordinate advocacy for Regents Initiatives with SED/OCE programs.

Looks pretty good doesn’t it. I confess that I have not been part of the “effective communications” process nor witnessed to the advocacy of the council. I am sure that it happened and it just must be that I am not in the loop.

Flashing ahead, I just extracted the following from the MANY website

Regents Advisory Council on Museums

After repeating the information noted above from Cannell, the website lists members of the council after Regents approved Cannell’s request [bold added]:

1. Dr. Anthony Bannon Director of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, SUNY Buffalo
2. Kate Bennett, President, Rochester Museum and Science Center
3. Paul S. D’Ambrosio, President and CEO, New York State Historical Association
4. Cecilia Esposito, Director, Plattsburgh State College Art Museum
5. Catherine Gilbert, Director, Museum Association of New York
6. Thelma Golden, Director, Studio Museum in Harlem
7. Kim Kanatani, Director of Education, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
8. Beth E. Levinthal , Executive Director, Hofstra University Museum
9. Anthony J. Ortega, Executive Vice President, Museum of Science & Technology
10. David Slippen, Senior Director of Government Relations, American Museum of Natural History
11. Martin E. Sullivan, Director, National Portrait Gallery

Even without doing much research, I suspect this MANY website list derives from the initial creation of the advisory council in 2012 following Cannell’s request. Since the New York State Historical Association no longer exists and Catherine Gilbert has been succeeded first by Devin Lander and now Erika Sanger as MANY Executive Directors, this list is obsolete. Since it was the only list on the MANY website, it does not suggest an active advisory council, an ongoing update of the list, or both.

Parallel with these events, State Legislator Steve Englebright was seeking to make sense of history organizations at the state level. His first effort was to reorganize the various history-related departments to in effect create a substantial equivalent of the Office of State History which had once existed. That effort went nowhere. He then sought to create an advisory council. I attended the History Roundtable he convened in Albany on May 29, 2014, and wrote about it.

After sending out a notice about the upcoming meeting to the history community, some people in the Albany area did attend. Cannell was there along with Regent Roger Tilles of the Cultural Education Committee. Devin Lander in his last day on Englebright’s staff attended and then after the weekend become the MANY Executive Director. Needless-to-say, these efforts went nowhere. 

More recently, Cannell left the position of Deputy Commissioner. The efforts to fill that slot (along with the creation of a state historian position) were the subject of some posts on May 24, 2016, and June 2, 2016.

Then in March, 2017, Mark Schaming, State Museum Director was promoted to the Deputy position while maintaining his State Museum position. I don’t know if he receives two salaries or not or simply was given a raise commensurate with the Deputy position.

In April, Mark submitted a letter to the Cultural Education Committee on the subject of appointments to the Regents Advisory Council on Museums.

Does the Board of Regents approve of the Commissioner’s recommendation to reappoint three members and appoint five new members to fill vacancies on the Regents Advisory Council on Museums?

Current members of the council include [Note – not vacant or staggered]:

1. Kate Bennett, President of the Rochester Museum & Science Center
2. Suzanne LeBlanc, President of the Long Island Children’s Museum
3. Sara Pasti, Director of the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz

The Commissioner recommends the following five-year reappointments and appointments: to May 31, 2022

1. Paul S. D’Ambrosio, President and CEO of the Fenimore Art Museum
2. Cecilia Esposito, Director of the Plattsburgh Art Museum
3. Daniel Slippen, Vice President of Government Relations of the American Museum of Natural History
4. Jan Ramirez, Chief Curator of the National September 11 Memorial Museum
5. Joe Lin-Hill, Deputy Director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery
6. Elizabeth Dunbar, Director of the Everson Museum of Art
7. Holly Block, Executive Director of The Bronx Museum of the Arts
8. Kris Wetterlund, Director of Education and Interpretation of the Corning Museum of Glass

The names in bold represent changes from the original 2012 list so evidently there has been some movement in the intervening five years. This time around, the MANY Executive Director was not included. One does wonder what exactly the advisory council had done for the previous five years. Is that information public?

Over the summer, the proceedings became a little trickier as an effort was undertaken to expand the museum advisory council and standardize the numbers with the library council. The increase was unanimously approved at the May 8th meeting. That effort involved a 45-day public comment period starting in August with a November 1 target date for implementation.

On August 25, MANY submitted a public comment on the Amendment of Section 3.12 of the Rules of the Board of Regents relating to the Members of the Museum Council and the Library Council.

We strongly support this amendment that will increase the number of members on the Museum Advisory Council from five to fifteen. [Note – I thought it was from 11 but I may have missed something along the way.] As recognized by the Board of Regents, New York’s chartered museums are an integral part of New York State’s Education Department. This increase is an important step towards a broader representation by museum location, size, and type of collection. A greater number of voices from New York’s cultural community will help shape and inform the work of the State Education Department and move the Council towards a more accurate reflection of the diversity of our state.  

0n October 5, Schaming submitted to the Cultural Education Committee a request to appoint the first of the new members to the Regents Advisory Council on Museums for a five-year term beginning November 1, 2017:

Gretchen Sorin, Director of the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies and Distinguished Professor

The appointment was approved at the October 17 meeting. It now being November, I presume she has now joined the Regents Advisory Council on Museums.

Now let’s return to some of the questions previously suggested and perhaps which have occurred to readers of this post.

1. What has the Regents Advisory Council on Museums been doing?
2. How has it discharged its responsibility to effectively communicate with the history community?
3. How has it discharged its responsibility to advocate on behalf of the history community?
4. How has it discharged its responsibility to monitor education policies particularly related to the teaching of local history?
5. Why isn’t there a session at the annual MANY conference set aside for the Regents Advisory Council on Museums to report to the museum community?
6. Why isn’t there a representative from the Regents Advisory Council on Museums present at each of the regional meetups conducted by MANY throughout the state?
7. What is the contact information for the museum and history community to use to reach out to the Regents Advisory Council on Museums?

It’s great to know that there is a Regents Advisory Council on Museums but I can’t help but wonder how many people in the history community even know that it exists and what it has actually accomplished.

11 thoughts on “Did You Know that There Was a Regents Museum Advisory Council?

  1. Hi

    Thanks for this info. I don’t know if i will ever have need to use it but it is good to know about such things. I was one of the ignorant ones and now I know so thanks.

    1. If you are active with a museum it may be beneficial to know that on paper at least there is an advisory council in Albany supposedly looking out for you.

  2. Sad and distressing to see Holly Block nominated as she died last month…

    Paul Gunther
    Executive Director
    The Gracie Mansion Conservancy
    East End Avenue at 88th Street
    New York, NY 10128

    1. Paul,

      I thought the name was familiar but I couldn’t place it. In October I had removed her name from my distribution list after I read about her death in the newspaper. I presume at the some the Regents will catch on that the person appointed last May died this October. Thanks for pointing this out.


  3. Hey Peter,

    I think we should run this at the NY History Blog – is that OK? Good piece.



  4. Noted your recent post regarding the Regents Museum Advisory Council. You raised important questions, and I hope you keep shining a light on the related shortcomings – not that I expect much change, but it would be an amazing step in the right direction just to see some engagement from this bunch with larger community of people and organizations working on historical matters in New York State. Keep at it.

    William T. (Chip) Reynolds
    135 Wildwood Lane
    Selkirk, NY 12158

    1. Thanks and I just learned that the Half Moon was on loan to the Netherlands for three years and not that it had been sold. Maybe we can get it back. Peter

  5. I became aware of the Regents Board involvement with historical societies last year when I had to apply to them for a Regents certificate in order to incorporate as a non-profit. It took about 5-6 months to be processed by them. In the meantime – no bank account. . .

  6. I support increasing the number to 15,this would certainty leave space to include a representative from the African American community. There appears to be none at this time. I would be happy to nominate someone.

    Thank you

    NYS Regent Collins

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