Photo by Joel Plotkin
Since the day Mike Miller accepted the position of chief executive officer at the Delaware Art Museum in 2013, he has known the job was temporary. Two-and-a-half years later, after weathering a financial crisis that forced the board of trustees to sell valuable works of art to replenish its endowment in 2014, Miller looks to the future.
“Our financial debt was debilitating, but we felt it was more important to sell some of the art than close our doors to the community,” Miller says. “Thank goodness it’s behind us now, and we can focus on connecting people with art through increasing programs and by growing visitors, members and donors.”
The sale was set in motion by the 2008 financial crisis, when banks were forced to accelerate repayment of tax-exempt bonds that were issued to the Delaware Art Museum in 2003. Some $25.8 million was lent to the museum for a refurbishment and expansion that was completed in 2005. To make up the remaining $19.8 million bond debt, the board of trustees was forced to sell some valuable pieces, including Andrew Wyeth’s “Arthur Cleveland.”
As the museum continues to recover, visitation is up 17 percent, and membership is up 5.5 percent as of the first three quarters of fiscal 2015. Miller calls it “a good sign that we are picking up momentum.” A recent $150,000 federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services is reason for even more excitement about the future of the 103-year-old institution.
“It’s the second grant we’ve received, and our plan is to use those funds to put all of our works online,” Miller says. The project requires more than a simple upload of photos of the museum’s pieces to a website. “It’s a five-year plan that requires more than 12,000 objects to be inventoried, photographed, uploaded, given a detailed description and catalogued in an online database,”Miller says. “It’s very labor intensive.”
A committee has been formed to find a permanent director, and Miller hopes to be involved in the selection. Until a director is selected—maybe as early as spring—Miller is happy to serve in his current capacity. “I’m here as long as they need me,” he says.