It’s been three years since Lenore Shoults stepped into the executive director’s spot at the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas.
“Time flies,” she says.
To date, Shoults has been busy bringing local talent to the stage in productions such as “Oliver” and “The Hobbit.” There’s live music to schedule; science and art shows to research and arrange; area art competitions to host; light bulbs to change; interns to mentor; and the search for talented and qualified staff to fill key positions to conduct.
However, one of her most challenging roles as director is to ready the Arts & Science Center for the intensive American Alliance of Museums (AAM) re-accreditation process it soon faces, just in time for the center’s half-century mark celebration in 2018.
While attending Arkansas State University as a Ph.D. candidate in heritage and museum studies, Shoults was assistant director at the ASU Museum when it went through the 18-month AAM (formerly the American Association of Museums) re-accreditation process.
Shoults feels the Arts & Science Center Board of Trustees, which hired her, was more confident in her abilities because of her AAM experience.
“It’s a formidable process,” she says about re-accreditation.
Arts & Science Center Board of Trustees Chairwoman Julia Lamb said Shoults’ experience played a big part in their decision to offer her the top spot.
“Her background as assistant at ASU’s museum and in the theater, I thought was a good match,” she said.
Former chairman and longtime board member, Adam Robinson, was also part of the group that hired her. He says as a group they felt she was — and continues to be — a good fit.
“The fact that she had been through re-accreditation was important to us,” he says.
Both Lamb and Robinson are pleased with her progress so far.
It takes a team
Board member and past chairwoman, Leigh Cockrum, says the process is very costly.
“Not necessary in cold, hard dollars but the manpower it takes to achieve re-accreditation. It’s not an easy task, and we’re all behind Shoults and the staff, helping where we can,” she says.
The current board isn’t just offering lip service or acting as cheerleaders from the sideline, Cockrum says.
“I don’t think people realize the strict guidelines we have to follow, and we are one of the few museums in this state to have achieved this status,” she says. “We worked for accreditation and we’re working just as hard to keep it.”
Current board chairwoman, Charlotte England says, “It’s a long procedure, but one we feel is very important. Accreditation is a sign of quality and excellence, because it holds institutions to higher standards than non-accredited museums. In turn, we’re able attract more traveling [art] shows and funding that’s not available to non-accredited museums. This means we can better serve the community.”
Cockrum says, “We’re more than just a Pine Bluff institution, but we serve all of Southeast Arkansas. I think people are proud of the Arts & Science Center, and re-accreditation assures the public that we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Shoults says overall, the institution is in good shape.
“We operate with the highest standards. We have a good, well-defined collection of Arkansas, African-American and Delta art,” she says
The center is also financially stable.
“We have a lot going for us,” she says.
Re-accreditation can take as long as 18 months and requires a close self-examination of the mission statement, policies, collections, staff, ethics and disaster preparedness, backed up with lots of documentation.
Members recently approved a new mission statement. Shoults says it took her, the board and staff months to ensure that the new single-sentence mission statement reflected the reason for the Arts & Science Center’s existence.
“We had to decide what is most important. … Every word was labored over because each must do a lot of heavy lifting,” she says.
The new mission statement is: “The Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas serves as a cultural crossroad: engaging, educating and entertaining through the arts and sciences.”
Shoults says they are working on a new code of ethics that will dictate how the board of trustees, staff and volunteers act. Those associated with the Arts & Science Center must accept the higher standards and follow certain rules and guidelines.
“It will avoid any conflicts of interest, eliminate personal motives,” she says. The new code is difficult to write, but, she says, “It’s even harder to live by.”
In addition to other policy and procedure reviews and revisions, Shoults says re-accreditation requires a hard look at the center’s disaster and emergency preparedness.
“The whole staff is involved. We look at potential problems and get others, such as the fire and police departments, involved,” she says. For instance, she wants the fire department to be familiar with the layout of the facility, as well as where the art is stored.
“We don’t want them turning the hoses on the art,” she says.
Of course, human life and safety is the staff’s first priority, and each member is assigned an area to oversee during an emergency. Once the people have been escorted to safety, the artwork is removed.
More than fire, Shoults says they are preparing for a number of emergencies.
During the AAM process, there isn’t a single thing that isn’t reviewed, rewritten or renewed.
“It’s a true examination of an organization. … It looks at whether it’s operating with standards of excellence and if the institution’s time and money are being spent wisely or unwisely.
“We have a unique institution because of the mixture of arts, sciences and theater arts. Each must function and yet not interfere with the operation of other areas. For example, we can’t have theater people opening a door into a gallery or someone leave a cherry picker in the hallway. It’s a more complex institution than many might think.
“The people in Pine Bluff love this place and really support it. I believe we’re in good shape and will pass [re-accreditation] with flying colors,” Shoults says.
Making its mark
According to the AAM, “Accreditation is a rigorous and challenging, yet highly rewarding process.”
It also requires commitment to change, a significant investment of time and resources from an institution’s staff and leadership; however, once accreditation is achieved, it must be maintained and museums must undergo a re-accreditation process after 10 years.
Out of the country’s estimated 18,000 museums, only about 800 have AAM accreditation. That’s less than 5 percent.
These days the AAM website says it has streamlined and shortened the process by allowing online submissions. Shoults is taking advantage of the online process and she feels they will be ready for the spring 2016 on-site visit.
Robinson says, “It’s an important time in the center’s history and [Shoults is] uniquely qualified to guide us through this process.”
And it’s not just about the art and its impact.
In a recent needs assessment study, the Clinton School of Public Service said the center was a vital component of Pine Bluff’s future economic development.
According to the study, the center is looked to “…not just as an individual entity, but in terms of the impact it could have on revitalizing the whole city of Pine Bluff.”
Shoults says the Arts & Science Center has a big role to play as the Pine Bluff community moves forward.
Robinson says, “It’s vital to a downtown [Pine Bluff] renaissance. Imagine the last 20 years without the Arts & Science Center at the corner of Eighth and Main, and then imagine all the millions of dollars not spent. Imagine all the kids who don’t have this place to come to, nowhere where their creative voice is valued.”