Historical Society Reshuffles, Lays Off Two Top Executives 

Two high-level positions at the Virginia Historical Society were eliminated Friday as part of a broader restructuring effort under way at the museum.

The responsibilities of the two eliminated positions — director of museums and that of executive vice president, chief operating officer and Paul Mellon Curator of Rare Books — will be absorbed by existing employees, says Paul A. Levengood, president and chief executive of the society.

Director of Museums James C. Kelly, who was laid off last week, was responsible for administering the museum's exhibitions and collections programs. Collections will now be overseen by E. Lee Shepard, vice president for collections, a senior archivist who most recently served as director of manuscripts and archives.

Exhibitions will be handled on a case-by-case basis by a team reporting to Nelson D. Lankford, recently named vice president for programs at the museum. Lankford is former director of publications and scholarship and the Virginius Dabney editor.

The duties of the former chief operating officer — a position held by Robert F. Strohm, who was laid off last week — will be handled by the new vice president for operations, Richard S. V. Heiman, who was the museum's treasurer and chief financial officer. Shepard, Lankford and Heiman will continue to perform duties associated with their previous positions.

Levengood says the layoffs are not a direct result of financial woes at the nonprofit museum. Fundraising, which accounts for half of the museum's annual income, increased to $4.9 million in 2009, from $3.7 million in 2008.

Nor are the layoffs connected to a new policy that offers free admission to the museum's research library and exhibitions throughout 2010, Levengood says. That move is partly underwritten by a private sponsor and fundraising is under way to make up the remaining lost revenue.

Levengood says the uncertainty of the economic climate “acted as really sort of a bit of a spur” for reorganization. “It was really something that I had kind of intended to do at some point.”

“I think we had been a little more top-heavy,” Levengood says. “I'm not talking from a salary structure but from an organizational structure. It made sense to me, rather than to cut the legs from under the stool. … to make the organization more streamlined.”


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