New leader hired by Morris Museum; what identity will she choose for it?

Carol S. Ward, new executive director of the Morris Museum.
Carol S. Ward, new executive director of the Morris Museum.
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The Morris Museum, which has banged through some rocky shoals in recent years, has a new leader who trustees hope will pilot the ship to calmer waters.

Carol S. Ward, executive director of the Morris-Jumel Mansion in New York City for the last four years, starts in Morris Township this month with the same title, the Morris Museum announced on Wednesday.

“She’s very experienced, very energetic, and very creative. We’re thrilled to have found her,” said Gerri Horn, chair of the Museum’s board.

Carol S. Ward, pictured in 2016 with Lin-Manuel Miranda (right) of 'Hamilton' fame.
Carol S. Ward, pictured in 2016 with Lin-Manuel Miranda (right) of ‘Hamilton’ fame.

Ward, who was not immediately available for comment, succeeds Linda Moore.

Moore left last fall after six years heading the Museum, which includes the Bickford Theatre. She now is director of leadership giving at St. Peter’s University in Jersey City.

Times have been turbulent for the Morris Museum, which marked its centennial in 2013.

Like many nonprofits, it was hit hard by the economic crash of the late 2000s. This followed a 2007 expansion to accommodate the Guinness Collection of rare music boxes and automata, a celebrated expansion that strapped the Museum with debt.

Subsequently, the Museum lost nearly three-fourths of its volunteers, by Horn’s estimate. About 100 of them were with the Friends of the Morris Museum, a potent fund-raising team that clashed with Moore. Staff turnover has been high, too.

Yet Horn is optimistic.

Debt repayment terms have been renegotiated, and the Museum is operating in the black again, she said.  Priorities now include restoring the volunteer base, adding about seven seats to the 15-seat board, and expanding popular programs for the special needs community, the chairwoman said.

orchestrion
A German-built, Popper ‘Rex’ orchestrion, circa 1915, from the Morris Museum’s Guinness Collection. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Several hires and job reassignments are intended to halt turnover. Mira Previs was plucked from the Brooklyn Museum of Art last November to become the Morris Museum’s development director. Assistant Curator Alexandra Willis was promoted to curator.

And two board vacancies have been filled with heavy hitters: Morristown personal injury attorney Scott Leonard and global financial consultant Maria Fiorini Ramirez.

Leonard chairs the New Jersey Association for Justice Political Action Committee, is a trustee of the Alvin R. Leonard Foundation, and has volunteered as an EMT.

Ramirez, a frequent speaker at international forums and guest on media programs, founded Maria Fiorini Ramirez Inc. in 1992. The Far Hills resident is a trustee of Pace University, her alma mater, and of the Brooklyn Hospital Center. She also is director of the Independence Foundation in Brooklyn.

FROM AUTOMATA TO DINERS

Ward is taking the helm of a Museum best described as eclectic.  What began in 1913 as a modest children’s museum at the Morristown Neighborhood House has evolved into a collection of nearly 50,000 items without an over-arching theme.

“We may have to sharpen our focus,” Horn said, noting competition for the public’s attention nowadays comes from places like the FunPlex on Route 10 and kids’ travel hockey schedules.

'Kuala,' blown glass, at Lino Tagliapietra exhibition at the Morris Museum, March 11, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
‘Kuala,’ blown glass, at Lino Tagliapietra exhibition at the Morris Museum, March 11, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Besides the Guinness Collection, the Museum houses permanent displays of minerals and gems, Native American artifacts and dolls, and model trains from Bell Labs.

There are dinosaur bones and a stuffed bear, and frequent dramas and jazz shows (with food trucks!) at the Bickford.

Recent exhibitions celebrated New Jersey diners, and Italian glass-blowing.

It’s a place with huge potential, said Steve Miller, who served as its executive director for 11 years.

“What makes it unique is it spans art, science, theater and history. It’s a center for creativity…a family museum, a museum with special interests,” said Miller, who now runs the Boscobel House and Gardens in upstate NY and teaches at Seton Hall.

‘GOING FULL BLAST’

The Morris Museum operates with a staff of 25 and an annual budget of about $2.5 million, according to CFO Connie Read, who has been serving as interim director.

Several candidates identified by an executive search firm were interviewed by the board, but Ward approached the Museum and impressed trustees with her combination of administrative-, curatorial- and fundraising talents, Horn said.

“It’s hard to find these three things going full blast in any one person,” Horn said.

It's Dino Day at the Morris Museum.
It’s Dino Day at the Morris Museum.

At the Morris-Jumel Mansion, Ward managed Manhattan’s oldest house, a four-acre public park, seven full-time employees and 40 volunteers, and an operating budget of about $250,000. The nonprofit’s collection includes about 700 items of furniture, artifacts, and documents.

Ward served as the Mansion’s education director for five years before assuming director duties. She has overseen more than $6 million in renovation projects, and has helped grow visitor attendance by 25 percent since 2009, according to her résumé.

The Mamaroneck, NY, native also has worked for the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT, and for Fortunoff in White Plains, NY. She has degrees in art history from Mary Washington College (undergraduate) and Hunter College (masters), and a master’s certificate in Art Museum Education from the College of New Rochelle.

Horn did not disclose details about Ward’s compensation.  Moore was paid $137,398 in 2014, the most recent year a financial report was available.

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