The leaders of York County's museums are closing in on the next executive director of the Culture and Heritage Museums.
The Culture and Heritage Commission, which oversees the museums, is considering four finalists, two from the Carolinas with ties to the museum and two from outside the Southeast who have extensive museum-related experience.
The commission may make a decision as soon as its meeting on Monday, said Commissioner Jonell Hagner, chair of the governance committee which took a first look at the candidates.
The Culture and Heritage Museums have been without permanent leadership since Van Shields, executive director of 14 years, resigned last September amid York County Council's controversial shake-up of the museums' leadership.
Later that month, the commission hired Harry Exell as interim director. Exell was a former museum employee who worked under Shields as a deputy director from 2001 to 2007, when he left citing a "difference in philosophy."
Exell's hiring has given the commission time to complete a thorough search, commissioners have said.
The starting salary for the director position is $80,647, down from the more than $121,000 Shields earned for the last three years of his tenure.
Almost 40 applicants from as far as Alaska, Oklahoma, Indiana and Illinoishave been considered. But only 21 had prior museum experience.
"Strong leadership and management capabilities and a good working knowledge of museum operations" are two requirements Commissioner Dennis Getter said he's looking for.
The finalists are:
Prior to coming to the York County museums, Exell worked as the vice president of exhibits, capital projects and operations for Discovery Place in Charlotte.
Before that he designed and managed projects for museums across the country and spent several years working in Canada for the Ontario and Alberta provincial governments, helping design and build several cultural facilities including parks, museums and natural history centers.
Exell said building solidarity among staff was one of his goals when he became interim director, and he feels like he's accomplished that. He's also working to rebuild support for the museums.
"It's been a challenging time for the museum, and we are seeing more and more of our long-time supporters coming back" following a period of "confusion," he said.
Exell said there's "excitement on the horizon," noting several projects that are moving forward, including a restoration of a building at Historic Brattonsville, renovations to the bathrooms at the McCelvey Center, a new planetarium in the works, and a relationship that's forming with the county.
"The county is taking more and more responsibility for computers and phones and all kinds of things" including buildings, Exell said. For the first time, museum leaders have been invited to sit down with county engineering staff to discuss a long-range plan for maintaining the museums' aging facilities.
"I think the commission will make a good decision, and I'm not going anywhere," Exell said, adding that he'd gladly help a new director make a smooth transition. But, he said, "I think I've got some more work to do here, and I'd be happy to do it."
A self-described "amateur historian," Lambert of Winston-Salem, N.C., has more than 25 years of finance and management experience and a history of improving organizations and museums.
Lambert works as a consultant for various nonprofits and businesses including Fortune 500 companies. His list of past clients and employers includes Hanesbrands, RJR Tobacco, Wachovia and Sara Lee.
He has worked for and participated in several historical societies and has traveled the world to participate in historic re-enactments.
He's also participated in the Battle of Huck's Defeat at Historic Brattonsville, and when part of the Mel Gibson movie "The Patriot" was filmed at Brattonsville, Lambert played a skilled extra.
"I can get on a horse and not fall off too often," Lambert said last September. "They got the picture of my horse's face and not me," he laughed.
Lambert said his desire to move from a strong financial and management background to directing a family of cultural institutions isn't uncommon. "A lot of financial types" have done the same he said, "because they are able to understand what the numbers mean."
He says he's already made that transition when he worked as chief financial officer at Old Salem Museums and Gardens, working to improve all museum programs from landscaping to education.
"It's really about being able to step back and look at the larger picture and not focus on one item that you lose sight of the others."
Riley works as a consultant for Conner Prairie Interactive History Park in Fishers, Ind., where she makes recommendations on curation and on using historic objects at living history sites and in a museum setting, according to her resume. She's also a peer reviewer for the American Association of Museums, evaluating historic sites with museums seeking AAM accreditation.
Before that, she worked as director of collections for the Children's Museum of Indianapolis and has taught graduate and undergraduate level museum studies courses at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis.
Riley is familiar with South Carolina. She worked as the deputy director of programs at the South Carolina State Museum from 1998 to 2000.
Over the past few decades, Riley has volunteered at various historical organizations, interpreting and evaluating historic sites, advising for exhibits and education programs, and reviewing grants, among other tasks.
"I am excited to be a candidate for the executive director position. I believe I am the right match to help lead the Cultural and Heritage Museums at this point in their history," she wrote to The Herald.
Tilley brings a decade of experience as an executive director of cultural institutions to his candidacy.
He's served as the executive director of the Cherokee National Historical Society in Park Hill, Okla., since mid-2006. His primary job is to oversee the Cherokee Heritage Center whose mission is to "preserve, promote and teach Cherokee history and culture" through exhibits, living history, art, education programming and cultural preservation, according to his resume.
Tilley is overseeing the reconstruction of an 18th century historic village which is nearing completion, he said Tuesday. Though his work has focused on the Cherokee tribe, York County's Catawba Indian history is a draw for him, he said.
During his tenure with the historical society, attendance, program participation, income and membership have increased. Under his management the organization started a cultural outreach program in 2007 that in 2010 reached almost 10,000 people, mostly students. He's also managed the creation of living history and Cherokee language programs.
Previously, Tilley was executive director for the Chieftans Museum and Major Ridge Home, a National Historic Landmark in Rome, Ga.
"I am very impressed with the commitment that York County has made to its cultural institutions and am honored that the commission would consider me a strong candidate for the position of executive director," Tilley said in an email.