History Museum Director Frances Levine Takes the Santa Fe Trail … East

4-staff_72-FranLevine-2013Dr. Frances Levine, who became director of the Palace of the Governors in 2002 and led construction of the New Mexico History Museum into a world-class institution, has been named president and CEO of the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis. She will remain at the New Mexico History Museum until March 15 and start her new job on April 15.

“Everything I have done with the help of our staff, donors and volunteers has prepared me for this next set of responsibilities and challenges,” Levine said. “It’s not a coincidence that I would be traveling to a museum that shares so much of our Mexican period and territorial period history. This new position will also introduce me to another perspective on the American story. I look forward to learning about the diverse cultures and historical experiences brought together here at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and made St. Louis a dynamic American city.

“New Mexico is fortunate to have a robust museum system capably administered by our Department of Cultural Affairs, Secretary Veronica Gonzales and Deputy Secretary Michael Delello, the Museum of New Mexico Board of Regents, and the support of so many donors to the Museum of New Mexico Foundation.

“I will miss red and green chile. And of course I will miss New Mexico most of all.”

In December 2013, Levine received a Luminaria award from the New Mexico Community Foundation, an honor given to people who have had a profound influence on their communities. Through her wide-ranging professional and volunteer activities, Levine has done just that.

“Dr. Levine’s contributions to the Department of Cultural Affairs and the state of New Mexico will never be forgotten,” said DCA Secretary Veronica Gonzales. “From the development of the New Mexico History Museum and its accompanying programs and exhibitions to her deep commitment to museum supporters, she is a strategic leader in the museum profession. She will be sorely missed. We wish her every success in her new appointment.”

Levine is in St. Louis today, where the Missouri Historical Society Board of Trustees and Missouri History Museum Subdistrict Commission confirmed her hiring. She will return to Santa Fe Tuesday evening and be available for in-person interviews after meeting with New Mexico History Museum staff on Wednesday morning.

In a press release announcing the hiring, Romondous Stover, chairman of the Missouri History Museum Subdistrict Commission, lauded Levine for her “museum experience, academic credentials, and commitment to community.” John Roberts, chairman of the Missouri Historical Society Board of Trustees, said that she “possesses the qualities of a true leader: Vision, strategic thinking, non-profit financial acumen, and experience with public/private partnerships.”

The Missouri History Museum has been active in the St. Louis community since 1866. Founding members established it “for the purpose of saving from oblivion the early history of the city and state.” Today, the museum seeks to deepen the understanding of past choices, present circumstances and future possibilities; strengthen the bonds of the community; and facilitate solutions to common problems. The museum offers programs and outreach services, including traveling exhibitions; tours; theatrical and musical presentations; programs for school classes and youth groups; family festivals; special events; workshops; and lectures. The museum is funded by the St. Louis city and county taxpayers through the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District and by private donations. It is set in Forest Park and also operates the Library and Research Center near the Washington University campus.

A native of Connecticut, Levine earned a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Anthropology from Southern Methodist University, Dallas.  She came to the museum from her position as the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs for Arts and Sciences at Santa Fe Community College where taught classes in New Mexico history and the ethno-history of the Pueblo and Hispanic communities of the Southwest. In 2009, she attended the prestigious Getty Museum Leadership Institute. She is a member of the American Alliance of Museums, the New Mexico Association of Museums, the American Society for Ethnohistory, and the Santa Fe Trail Association. She has served as a board member of Temple Beth Shalom, editorial board member for the New Mexico Historical Review, and member of the Clements Center for the Southwest and the Central University Libraries Board at SMU.

She has written numerous papers and books and, with Marta Weigle and Louise Stiver, edited the award-winning Telling New Mexico: Stories from Then and Now (2009, University of New Mexico Press). She has a new edited volume, The History and Archaeology of Frontier Battle and Massacres with Dr. Ronald K. Wetherington (2014, University of Oklahoma Press).

Levine has been married 36 years to Tom Merlan, with whom she has two grown children, Stephen and Anna Merlan. She knits, hikes, does water aerobics, grows orchids, loves sharing meals with friends, volunteers at Santa Fe’s Interfaith Homeless Shelter, and suffers from an incurable urge to travel.

The opening of the New Mexico History Museum provided a 96,000-square-foot anchor to a downtown Santa Fe campus that began with the 400-year-old Palace of the Governors, a National Historic Landmark. In 1909, the Palace became the state’s original museum. Other campus entities are the Fray Angélico Chávez History Library; Palace of the Governors Photo Archives; Palace Print Shop; and Native American Artisans Program.

In its nearly five years of operation, the museum has mounted 35 exhibitions and installations, including Cowboys Real and Imagined; The St. John’s Bible; Wild at Heart: Ernest Thompson Seton; El Hilo de la Memoria: The Threads of Memory; Fashioning New Mexico; and Santa Fe Found: Fragments of Time. The exhibits have been so impressive that other museums have asked to borrow them, including the Museum of Texas Tech University, the Farm and Ranch Museum in Las Cruces, Palm Beach’s Society for the Four Arts, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, and the Jewish Historical Society in Albuquerque. The exhibit Album Amicorum has traveled to museums in Spain, Turkey and Germany.

On Dec. 4, 2013, the museum welcomed its 500,000th visitor, setting a pace of more than 100,000 visitors a year to exhibits and exuberant programs, including film festivals, lectures, Christmas at the Palace, Las Posadas, the Palace Gem & Mineral Show, and the monthly Brainpower & Brownbags Lecture Series. The museum has become a popular site for naturalization ceremonies, as well as private events, including weddings and corporate receptions.

A commitment to education spurred the development of classroom curricula for all exhibits, a special program for Head Start students in Santa Fe, a Hands On History program for students of all ages, and a Routes on Roots program for high-schoolers, created in partnership with the Coalition of International Sites of Conscience. Partnerships with the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Highlands University, Santa Fe Community College, and the National Endowment for the Humanities benefited students and teachers alike.

Collaborating with KNME-TV, the museum produced documentaries with classroom curricula, available online. Museum partners included the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain; the Museo Franz Mayer in Mexico City; the Karl May Museum in Radebeul, Germany; El Paso Museum of History, and Historic New Orleans Collection. Other partners included the Historical Society of New Mexico; Alzheimer’s Poetry Project; La Fonda on the Plaza; the Academy for the Love of Learning; NPR’s StoryCorps; Smithsonian Institution; SWAIA Indian Market; the crew of the USS New Mexico submarine; and the University of New Mexico’s Digital Collections initiative.

Through its artifacts, maps, photos, documents and expertise, the museum has become a hub of scholarly research about the Southwest. In addition, museum staffers have written and contributed to numerous books, including Creating Santa Fe; The Art & Legacy of Bernardo Miera y Pacheco; Light in the Desert; Poetics of Light: Contemporary Pinhole Photography; El Hilo de la Memoria; and the upcoming Painting the Divine: Images of Mary in the New World, and Baumann and Friends: Artist Cards from Holidays Past. As home to historic presses, the museum’s Palace Print Shop hasproduced award-winning heritage editions of books, including Jack Thorp’s Songs of the Cowboys and O’Keeffe Stories, along with publications by Santa Fe’s poets laureate.

These accomplishments—and boxes of awards—were made possible through the inspired leadership of Frances Levine, whose announcement today was met with surprise and sadness across the History Museum’s ranks. The Museum of New Mexico Board of Regents will conduct a national search for a successor, to be named by Secretary Gonzales.

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