Fruitlands Museum appoints new CEO
Tim Firment, a Harvard resident with a background in management and finance, has been appointed chief executive officer of Fruitlands Museum to replace Maud V. Ayson who has served as executive director since 2000.
The Harvard museum's board of trustees chose Firment, a 2-year board member who took over as chief financial officer last June after an embezzlement scandal shook Fruitlands.
"After Maud decided to move on, the board chose me to step in," he said. "The museum world has gotten more complex. I think (the board) saw the need for someone who could work in areas like sponsorship, grants, fundraising and attracting donors."
Firment's appointment comes at a propitious time for the 210-acre facility that offers four museums, panoramic views and idyllic woodlands.
Founded in 1914 by Clara Endicott Sears, Fruitlands includes the world's first Shaker museum, an American Indian museum, a fine arts gallery and the house in which Transcendentalist Bronson Alcott tried to start a Utopian community.
During Ayson's final year, attendance rose 38 percent at a time many museums were losing visitors.
Discussing her resignation, she said,"It was time for me to take a break and see what's next.
"The year ended on such a high note. The museum is in great shape," she said.
Ayson said she's proud of broadening programs and exhibits, securing Title V environmental certificates, re-installing the Shaker collection and putting a climate control system in the fine arts gallery.
She predicted Firment's enthusiasm and background will make him a great leader. "He's passionate about the museum. I'm confident he'll surround himself with good people. Tim rolls up his sleeves and digs in," she said.
Ayson, who worked at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge before coming to Fruitlands, said she hasn't decided her next career move.
"I really don't know. I've taught and been a school administrator. I've always been an educator. Maybe I'll work again in a museum or an alternative school," she said.
Looking back, Ayson said, "It's been a privilege to serve Fruitlands....It's an amazing place, an oasis where you can renew and reflect," she said. "There's a magic that keeps bringing people back."
Firment said Fruitlands is in good financial shape despite an ongoing lawsuit against a former executive.
"After the past financial crisis, we're financially strong," he said. "We're current on all liabilities. We run a strong business. That doesn't mean we're out of the woods. We still rely on the charity of people backing Fruitlands."
The "financial crisis" Firment spoke of stems from a civil lawsuit filed by the museum last year that alleges former CFO and deputy director Peggy Kempton and three of her children embezzled more than $1 million from the museum over seven years.
Firment said trustees changed Fruitlands leader's job title from executive director to CEO to reflect new challenges facing many museums.
"I think (the title change) reinforces the intention of continuing in the same direction but with stronger financial oversight going on," said Firment, who is a certified public accountant.
He said his career provided important experience in "executive leadership with a background in finance and management." A graduate of Pennsylvania State University, Firment said he's worked "mostly with Fortune 500 companies," including Pillsbury, PepsiCo and Limited Brands.
Firment said the current economic crisis has limited donations. "It stops people from being as charitable as in the past. That makes fundraising all the more relevant," he said.
Asked about staffing changes, he said former curator Michael Volmar, who left the museum several years ago, will be returning soon.
Firment said Fruitlands is responding to fresh challenges by using its natural resources to broaden interest and attract repeat visitors.
The site's trails have been "refined, groomed and expanded" and consideration is being given to opening some trails to horseback riding, he said. "We're starting to understand our land is our fifth museum. It's a local playground for visitors to interact with. We're blessed with phenomenal trails, animal habitats and great outdoor activities," he said. "We've got to discover ways to be relevant in today's environment. We want Fruitlands to be a place where families and the community come together in ways that are enjoyable and enlightening. We hope to build on that in ways that haven't been introduced before."
The MetroWest Daily News