Capt. Avery Museum’s New Director Ushers New Era for Historic Site
Since April, Capt. Avery Museum in Shady Side has had a new museum director. Jeff Holland comes to Shady Side from a museum just six miles to the north—as the ship sails—where he served for a dozen years as the director of the Annapolis Maritime Museum.
Holland agreed to come on part-time to the museum in South County. He said the schedule fit perfectly with his life plan.
Holland said that he took on AMM in 2001 with a few ideas. He’d been recruited after doing volunteer PR work for the Eastport Heritage Society, the group that later morphed into the maritime museum. His charge was to get the museum off the ground. He’d have to raise money, invent programs and curate exhibits from the ground up.
In 2003, Hurricane Isabel hit. Overnight, Holland’s job description changed. Instead of fundraising and curating exhibits, he was up to his chest in mud. Digging out, he learned, ended up being a good thing. It raised the profile of the museum’s mission. By 2012, they had raised $2.5 million and served over 5,000 children in the museum’s educational programs.
But at the end of his dozen years, he said he looked around and felt that he’d met all the goals he’d set out to accomplish. He decided to return to the job he’d had before helming the Eastport museum. He’d relaunch his public relations business, “Holland Lines.” He said that while recruiting for business, he heard about the Capt. Avery Museum director’s opening.
“I was looking for this kind of partnership,” Holland said.
But, just like with his previous position, he relished the challenge of helping a small museum grow.
For the past few months, he’s been working with volunteers and the Capt. Avery Museum board to set up four teams, each of which meets regularly and sets out a set of goals and action items.
He calls the teams—which he stressed aren’t committees—”Gold Implementation Teams.” There is an education team, an exhibits team, a public relations and marketing team and a fundraising team, which he has dubbed, Team 1859, so-named for the year the museum house was built.
Here’s the focus of each team:
- Education. This team hopes to promote educational programs that tell the unique stories relating to the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay and the unique heritage of the area. After their second meeting, this team was ready to go out into the community to talk to schools and groups like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to encourage participation. In addition to the educational programs, they’d also like local students to utilize for research the museum’s extensive library, including a treasure trove of oral histories. They also have a living classroom exhibit of biodiversity in their rain gardens and stormwater management system on the grounds.
- Exhibits. Holland said that the exhibits at the museum should tell the story of the Chesapeake Bay and the cultural heritage of Shady Side. Specifically, the stories that set it apart from the other heritage sites in Annapolis and South County. He also hopes to engage local artists in the community to partner with the museum, including local schools and groups like the Muddy Creek Artist Guild.
- Public Relations and Marketing. Holland said that the museum has so many different stories to tell, and the museum lends itself to being the focal point of these stories. He hopes to tell the stories of the workers on the Bay, the heritage of blacks and whites who worked side-by-side on the Bay even in the midst of a totally segregated society and the Jewish families who utilized the site in the 1920s as an access point to the Bay when all of the other public beaches were closed to them. The stories are endless, and their research library will be another point of access.
- Team 1859. This is the fundraising component, and Holland hopes to bring in the business community, offering various levels of support and acknowledgement to businesses that participate. He’s already gone out into the community to meet business owners and community stakeholders. He is working on a formal presentation to businesses, adding that the educational component will be a big selling point.
Holland is spending just two full days and a floating half-day at the site each week. He’s got his work cut out, but he said that the board and volunteers are engaged in the work and feeling invigorated.
Holland has lived in the area since 1981, when he moved here after graduating from Penn State in State College. His father was an avid sailor, and Jeff picked up the passion when he was a teen. He said his father bought a sailboat in Ontario and they were sailing it down the East Coast when they landed in Annapolis.
“I thought, ‘this is a nice place,’” he said.
He’s been here ever since. He met his wife of 30 years, Louise, in Annapolis at a poetry reading. Together they have a daughter, Anna, 25, who just returned from the Peace Corps and is working in Baltimore.
As baritone ukelele player in The Eastport Oyster Boys, Holland is no first-timer to South County.
“We’ve played here a number of times over the years,” he said.
Recalling the horrors of hurricane clean-up, Holland said that he came to the Capt. Avery Museum and looked over the seawall to check the water height. Shady Side is known for being low and struggling during severe rain and storm events.
“It’s 9 feet above here. It was 2.5 feet at the Annapolis Maritime Museum,” he said. “I think I can do this.”