Bentonville History Museum seeks its first executive director
BENTONVILLE — The search is underway for the first executive director of the Bentonville History Museum.
“We’re really excited,” said Leah Whitehead, chair of the museum’s board of trustees, of the research. “We were blown away by the applicants. Really top notch.”
The free museum will be in the historic 2,026-square-foot train depot across from the Main Street Public Library, Whitehead said. The museum leases the space from the city for $100 a year, a measure approved by the city council last year.
A soft opening is scheduled for September 1. The caboose next to the building could be renovated as an educational stop, she said. The Bentonville museum will be privately funded, she said.
The first exhibit will showcase the period of bluff dwellers across the Osage and the arrival of pioneers, according to Whitehead.
The depot is next to the station park, which features a gazebo, benches and landscaping and is accessible from the downtown trail, according to the city.
The museum is a nonprofit organization governed by a 13-member Board of Trustees and a five-member Advisory Council. The director will report to the board, according to the job description posted on the museum’s LinkedIn page.
The board has been working on the project for six years. Over the past 50 years, many groups have wished for a Bentonville history museum, Whitehead said.
The operating budget will be set by the executive director and board of directors and will be funded by the public and community through donations and memberships, as well as programs and events, Whitehead said.
A search committee began reviewing applications on Thursday. There were 38 applicants, and the committee shortlisted five candidates and will begin interviews this week, Whitehead said.
The Founding Executive Director will establish the emerging museum, coordinate facility and exhibit plans, inspire widespread financial support, oversee operations, develop staff, and pursue innovative programming in the community, according to the job description.
The director will shape the direction of the museum from scratch – selecting items for display, preparing exhibits, designing programming, and coordinating events. The director will work with the board and the community to create a museum that will engage the community and improve the town of Bentonville, according to the job description. Remuneration is set at $85,000 per year and is subject to a two-year contract.
The hiring of a director is the result of a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, Whitehead said. The grant is for two years, Whitehead said.
The Bentonville History Museum is poised to contribute to the cultural life of the city, which attracts domestic and international tourists and corporate attention through a variety of institutions, including the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art , The Momentary, the Museum of Native American History, the Walmart Museum, the Peel Mansion Museum and Botanical Gardens, and the Scott Family Amazeum, according to the job description.
Several towns surrounding Bentonville – including Bella Vista, Gravette and Rogers – have historical museums. Springdale has the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History.
Randi Van Noy, curator of the Musée historique de la Gravette, said history museums are important, especially for a new generation of potential visitors.
“It’s important for the community to come and tell us their stories, especially in a small town,” she said.
Van Noy said he’s heard of people taking road trips to visit all the little museums in the area.
The Gravette historical museum consists of two buildings, the Kindley house and the museum annex. The Kindley House is the childhood home of World War I flying ace Captain Field E. Kindley, who spent much of his childhood in Gravette. The house features period pieces, many of which have Gravette roots. The annex building contains numerous exhibits detailing Gravette’s history, according to the museum’s website.
Kindley, recipient of the British Distinguished Flying Cross and an Oak Leaf Cluster for the American Distinguished Service Cross, ranked third in number of aircraft shot down for the US Army Air Service during World War I. He totaled 12 confirmed kills, according to the Encyclopedia. from Arkansas.
Some items in the Bentonville museum will include Rabbit Dickerson’s shoe shine stand and a People’s Bank teller’s cage, Whitehead said.
Arthur “Rabbit” Dickerson was a well-known graduate of the Bentonville Colored School. He became a highly regarded businessman who ran a shoe shine business for over 50 years, then became the first recipient and namesake of a Greater Bentonville Chamber of Commerce award for those who bring a special contribution to the community, according to the Arkansas Encyclopedia.
“It seems like every town in Benton County has a history museum, and now Bentonville will have one too,” Whitehead said.