SHADY SIDE, Md. (AP) — The first day on the job, Jeff Holland checked to see how high the Captain Avery Museum in Shady Side was above sea level.
“That’s a safe measurement for me,” Holland. “At my last job, it was only 3.6 feet.”
Sea level is important to the Annapolis resident. In 2003, Tropical Storm Isabel hit the city, destroying the Annapolis Maritime Museum in Eastport just after Holland was named executive director.
Over the next several years, Holland rebuilt the museum and saw attendance increase from hundreds of visitors annually to thousands. In September 2012, he surprised many by announcing his exit from the museum.
In April, Holland was tapped to lead the development of the Shady Side museum. The small house once belonged to Salem Avery, a 19th-century man who transformed the oyster industry in Maryland.
On the job six months, Holland has been revamping the 154-year-old house with art exhibits, community partnerships and educational outreach.
He took a few hours recently to talk about his plans with The Capital:
Why did you leave the Eastport Maritime Museum to come here?
I was executive director of the Annapolis Maritime Museum for 12 years. It’s funny, it started as the Eastport Historical Committee. It grew from a little building called the Barge House. We then moved into the abandoned McNasby Oyster Co., which was destroyed in 2003.
An 8-foot tidal surge took it over. Everyone was wondering if the building was going to be condemned. After rebuilding, things had stabilized.
By the time I left, we had 5,000 kids coming through the door. So, at that point a year ago, I realized the building was back and better than we ever dreamed, thousands people are coming.
I realized a year ago that I had built this incredible organization and wonderful institution. I didn’t want to spend the next 10 years being an administrator.
What are the challenges facing the Capt. Salem Avery Museum?
It’s location is fairly remote, but believe it or not, the maritime museum is relatively remote and hard to find. I wasn’t daunted by that.
If we do cool things, people will find us. I also found that education programs had gone dormant and the exhibit program had also gone fairly dormant.
How are you working to improve education programs?
One is the Discovery Kit program. We wanted to have an educational activity when families come to visit. They get a chance to learn our culture and heritage. That same program can also be adapted to small youth groups.
Another development is in conjunction with Anne Arundel County Public Schools, specifically schools that feed into Southern High School. Over the winter we will launch an onsite program with a water theme. We also have special programs for four elementary schools. We will recruit mentors at Southern High School to mentor the kids.
Another initiative with Southern High School is to have an art exhibit from there. They happen to have an incredible arts program. So, we will be having those kids display their art here. I also want the kids to come and paint here, given the scenery.
How else are you boosting the museum’s profile?
Every six to eight weeks beginning now, we will be having single artists or groups of artists who will show photography or fine art. All of those exhibits will have some connection celebrating the cultural heritage of this area and the Chesapeake Bay.
We are using the visual arts to bolster our mission. This gives us a chance to bring people who wouldn’t normally be here to see an exhibit of Marion Warren, a noted Maryland photographer.
Once we get people here we can engage them. The next exhibit we will have in January will be pieces from the Muddy Creek Arts Guild.
We are also in the process of creating a new interpretive master plan that will help guide us through future exhibits. Basically, we will be analyzing what stories about here we can tell. All those different stories we have to tell can be told in a number of different ways, either through a Web site or a three-dimensional exhibit.
To get support, we are also starting the Captain Avery’s 1859 Club to get local businesses to support what goes on here. We are already getting good results from this.
We are also boosting our marketing with new signs, social media outreach and an new newsletter.
Where do you hope you and the museum will be in 10 years?
I hope to be here a long time. Five and even 10 years from now, I hope this place has a steady increase in visitors and a steady educational program that brings in students from all over the county.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)