Two months into her role as president of the Missouri History Museum, Frances Levine is making her presence known as she works to move past the controversy surrounding her predecessor.
Former museum president Robert Archibald resigned in 2012 amid questions about his compensation and the purchase of contaminated land on Delmar Boulevard.
Levine spoke with St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh about the future of the museum.
Museum Governance and Transparency
The Missouri History Museum is one of the five institutions that make up the Zoo-Museum District (ZMD). As part of the ZMD, the museum receives about $10 million a year in property taxes from residents of St. Louis City and County.
“The ZMD and the board of trustees now have in place [that] any expenditures over a certain dollar amount go through several different levels of review,” said Levine. “I think you’ll see more opportunities for public comment and also our boards acting in concert on any expenditure.”
The policy in place now prevents the president from purchasing property on behalf of the museum without oversight, she said, adding that “there is no way to be able to access those kinds of funds and those kinds of commitments [on her own].”
“I am not the only person who signs. I am not the only person who makes those kinds of decisions,” said Levine. “There is a governance process that requires more than one set of eyes.”
Making Her Presence Known
When Levine started at the Missouri History Museum in April, the exhibition schedule was already set through 2015. But that didn’t stop her from making her mark on the exhibitions rolling out this year.
“I think maybe the staff was surprised that I came with opinions. I should say I was born that way,” said Levine with a chuckle. “And so I started right away to talk about what’s in the exhibits that are coming in, getting some of my ideas across.”
One of Levine’s ideas is that history museum text needs to be written at a level understandable by children, or at least at a level that parents can explain to their children.
“There always has to be places for family dialogue in a history museum,” said Levine. “So you’ll start seeing some differences in level of scripting.” Throughout the exhibit there will be segments targeted to children or teens, helping them make connections with history at their level of interest and understanding.
Levine's other interests include African American history and environmental history. She plans to add more artifacts about those issues to the museum’s collection. Earlier this week, ZMD commissioner Robert Powell encouraged a renewed discussion about adding a new subdistrict of African American arts organizations to the ZMD.
Levine’s compensation is lower than what Archibald received prior to his resignation in 2012, but Levine says she is happy with her compensation package. She is the first woman to lead any of the ZMD’s five institutions, but links her lower pay to being new to the role rather than her gender.
Archibald’s contract entitled him to a salary of $375,000 a year plus a housing allowance of $33,000. Levine receives a salary of $235,000 plus medical and retirement contributions. She does not receive a housing allowance.
During the course of the show, Levine also talked about the ongoing success of the 250th anniversary exhibit, and about the Louisiana Purchase exhibit opening in October.