After a late-night, closed-door meeting, there’s a new York County museum director

Carey Tilley has been the executive director of Cultural & Heritage Museums since 2012.
Carey Tilley has been the executive director of Cultural & Heritage Museums since 2012. Herald file photo

After a five-hour closed door meeting Tuesday night, York County’s museum director is no longer in that role.

Carey Tilley will remain with the Culture & Heritage Museums but in a different position. Richard Campbell, director of business operations, will take the top spot.

Penny Sheppard, chair of the county Culture and Heritage Commission, said the arrangement came after Tilley presented it Tuesday night.

“The commission agreed to Mr. Tilley’s request to a reassignment,” Sheppard said. “At the same time, we’ve elevated Richard Campbell to executive director.”

Efforts to obtain comment from Tilley on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Sheppard said she doesn’t yet know what role Tilley will have.

“It’s going to be a conversation between Richard, Carey, me and (county attorney) Michael Kendree just to make sure that we’re within the right parameters,” Sheppard said. “It’s not necessarily an exact swap.”

The Culture and Heritage Commission manages the Culture & Heritage Museums. The commission formed when the Museum of York County and York County Historical Commission merged in 1997. The museum group includes Historic Brattonsville, Museum of York County, McCelvey Center and Main Street Children’s Museum in Rock Hill.

The executive director runs a staff of about 50 employees. The museums have an annual budget of $4.8 million.

Tilley came to the museum group in 2012. A Georgia native, Tilley served as executive director of the Cherokee National Historical Society in Park Hill, Okla., for almost six years prior to arrival in York County. He replaced Van Shields, in the role 15 years before Tilley.

During but prior to his being called into the executive session Tuesday night, Tilley spoke of a list of exciting projects from the $2 million Ice Age exhibit at the museum to the $3.7 million master plan for the more than 40-building Brattonsville. Tilley presented the commission with information showing assets in 2017-18 up 235% since he arrived.

The museum group’s fund balance is up more than 600% and special funds 500% in that same time, he said. Membership income is up 200%, Tilley said.

The current year has been a challenge because of factors beyond the museum’s control.

“The children’s museum has really hurt us,” Tilley said, “and we’ve had record rainfall at Brattonsville. At least the most we’ve had since it’s been open, in 40 years.”

Last fall a busted sprinkler pipe upstairs of the children’s museum flooded the downtown Rock Hill site. It’s been closed since. Insurance from the responsible party is paying to replace items, but museum numbers reflect the loss of visitors and revenue. The museum could reopen later this year.

“It literally destroyed the children’s museum,” Sheppard said. “We hate so much that it’s been closed.”

Still, other sites flourished.

“Those other three sites, we had a record year,” Tilley said.

In its first quarter, 2019 saw combined attendance at three of the museum’s four large sites — apart from the children’s museum — of more than 52,000 people. That number is higher than at any point in at least 13 years.

Tilley’s time as executive director also has thrust the museum into the spotlight from outside events. In 2017, amid national protests and violence related to race and the removal of Confederate monuments, Tilley decided to cancel a Civil War-era battle reenactment at Brattonsville. The event, held for years with a strong following, wasn’t based on a specific area battle.

Tuesday’s closed-door session wasn’t the first to focus on Tilley’s leadership. On April 30, the commission went into executive session for an interim evaluation of Tilley’s position. The commission didn’t take a vote returning to open session.

A second-term commissioner who took over as chair July 1, Sheppard has high hopes for continued growth.

In May, agreements were finalized between York County, Rock Hill and the commission to bring on a temporary site manager for exploring how to move forward with a new African-American Cultural Center. The Williams Ivory House, a red brick structure beside the water tower in downtown Rock Hill, will be the site. The commission put money toward the one-year hire.

Recent projects at the museums include a restroom remodel at the museum, an elevator at Brattonsville and accessibility improvements at McCelvey. Several large-scale renovations are ongoing, including at the children’s museum.

“There’s lots of things on the horizon,” Sheppard said. “I’m really excited about the future of the museum.”

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