For the past five years, I have been honored to be the Ron and Donna Fielding Director of the George Eastman Museum. As I reflect, I am thankful to our great staff, the Eastman Museum Council, and all of our members, donors, and volunteers for their essential contributions. I am grateful to our trustees and active trustees emeriti, who have worked with and supported me to formulate our strategic vision. In particular, I thank Thomas Jackson, Steven Schwartz, and Kevin Gavagan—who have served as chairs of the Board of Trustees during my tenure—and former chair Stephen Ashley, who has been an invaluable advisor.
With the knowledge that there remain pressing needs and opportunities for improvement, we should all be proud of what has been accomplished during this time.
The Dryden Theatre is beautifully renovated. The museum’s galleries have been refurbished. The preservation of George Eastman’s historic mansion proceeds: the Palm House, the porte cochere, the Conservatory roof, and the North Organ have been restored; the East Porch project is underway; and next year, we will undertake urgently needed restoration of the Colonnade and dozens of windows. Georgia Gosnell, the New York State Office of Historic Preservation, Dr. Richard and Mary Zipf, the Davenport-Hatch Foundation, and many others have contributed toward the mansion’s preservation.
The museum’s critical information technology infrastructure has been transformed. Outdated servers and personal computers were replaced. A storage area network was installed to securely store our collection database and other data. We developed a new website and a freely accessible database of more than 300,000 collection objects. With support from the William and Sheila Konar Foundation, we recently replaced an obsolete data network and an antiquated phone system with current technology.
We have continued to purposefully develop our world-class collections. In photography, ranging from nineteenth-century vernacular photographs to works by renowned contemporary artists. In cinema, spanning from films by the Lumière brothers to the complete moving images works of William Kentridge. In technology, ranging from rare boxes of the two earliest Kodak films to milestone digital cameras. In the George Eastman Legacy, varying from his bed discovered in a barn to thousands of his photographs and papers that had been held at the University of Rochester.
Our exhibitions, in the galleries and the Dryden Theatre, have been diverse, engaging, and enlightening, and our curatorial team has set and achieved standards of excellence.
Our book publishing program has flourished. The Dawn of Technicolor, 1915–1935 and A Matter of Memory: Photography as Object in the Digital Age are two of the notable books published with essential funding from the George Eastman Museum Publishing Trust Endowment, founded in 1989 with foresight and generosity by Thomas Gosnell and Richard Menschel.
The museum’s greatest challenges are financial. Endowment funds currently total about $35 million, which is less than half the level appropriate to assure the museum’s long-term sustainability. Yet, there has been some progress. Many donated to meet the matching requirements for the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s founding contribution to our Conservation Department endowment. The director’s position endowment has been generously funded by Ron Fielding. An endowment for one of our curatorial positions has been almost fully funded by an anonymous donor. Building our endowment must be a long-term priority.
Most urgently, it is essential that unrestricted gifts to the Eastman Museum increase by at least 20 percent this year to enable us to maintain our current activities. In 2012, when Eastman Kodak Company was unable to continue its cash donations to our museum, Bruce Bates came to the rescue with a five-year commitment to donate $200,000 annually to replace those corporate contributions. This year, several of our trustees have substantially increased their annual giving. Now, I must ask everyone who cares about the George Eastman Museum to increase your support so that we can maintain our staff and programs, which are essential to our service to the public.
I look forward to advancing our institution’s mission over the coming years. Thank you for your support.
Bruce Barnes, Ph.D.
Ron and Donna Fielding Director
October/December 2017 Bulletin