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Valley Forum: 'Museum name change is the only way'

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Regarding the proposed name change of the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art (“Sonoma Valley Museum of Art to Drop ‘Valley’ from Name,” March 6) the following are the facts as I know them as of today:

At the annual museum meeting for members on March 15, some voiced that they would appreciate improved communications from the Board of Directors. This column is in the spirit of that request.

About one year ago, in anticipation of the 20th anniversary of the museum, the board of directors embarked on a wide-ranging examination of every facet of museum operations. The board retained widely acknowledged museum expert and published author, Gail Anderson, who conducted over 50 in-person interviews, plus phone and mail interviews with the then-mayor, tourism board, philanthropists, volunteers, staff, former and current board members and, most importantly, the greater Sonoma community.

The research revealed that, apart from a modest group of museum supporters, most people did not know the museum even existed. Nor could they identify the name of the museum.

In the face of this unsettling news, the board set about to develop a wide-ranging and ambitious strategic plan. That plan set the museum on a course to modify the name, brand, logo and building frontage (to the shorter and simpler Sonoma Museum of Art), a new website, database, collateral material, and bring art out from behind the walls and into the community, and plan for several widely promoted events including the 20th anniversary gala coming in October 2018. The name change decision was seen as an important element of a very bold and wide-ranging set of initiatives that would easily attract wide support.

And, in fact, at the member meeting on March 15 there were sufficient member proxy votes to pass the name change. Of the 120 votes, about one-dozen people expressed dissatisfaction with the name change and/or the process. To be fair, the board did not expect any resistance but acknowledges in retrospect that it should have managed this issue differently. So out of an abundance of respect, the board decided to set aside that vote, invite more member comments, and has rescheduled a new vote.

Members of record as of March 25 will receive in the mail next week notice of a new meeting, scheduled for April 30, and new proxy – plus “for” and “against” the motion reading material.

Further, board and staff personally met with members who voiced objection to the motion or process. This includes some of our valued museum founders who understandably prefer to keep the name they chose 20 years ago. I have personally found them to be eminently decent and well-intentioned people.

And yet, the Board, having the benefit of this valuable input, remains steadfast in favor of the name change. Good and reasonable people can debate the importance of “Valley” in the name.

However, since the board enacted this decision, the museum has spent valuable time and resources advancing nearly every facet of the museum’s future and is now on a very tight deadline on multiple tracks. The new name, logo, and brand appears throughout. Reversing the name change will most certainly stall nearly every significant initiative now underway.

Further, I have been told by several retailers on the Plaza that someone is going door-to-door trying to collect signatures against the name change. Such a petition has no standing whatsoever in this vote because, by law, the vote is strictly limited only to the museum’s 600-plus paid members.

The board continues to suggest to its members, with respect, a vote in favor of the name change motion.

A museum is an entirely discretionary entity, yet it exists for a high purpose – to elevate and nourish the soul. We invite every citizen of greater Sonoma to visit, share, engage, and learn at the newly envisioned museum.

Ken Wornick is chair of the governance and nominating committee for the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.