Salisbury, MD – Salisbury University will begin the relocation process of the collection currently housed at the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art to a new home this summer in downtown Salisbury.
The museum will move from its location at Schumaker Pond to the Powell Building at 218 W. Main St., next to Salisbury University Downtown. This new location, in the heart of Salisbury’s growing downtown center, will be more accessible and connected to the community, and will present opportunities for new partnerships and programs.
The relocation will be facilitated independently by the University. Effective July 1, 2023 SU will no longer maintain an operating agreement with the Ward Foundation to act as an affiliated foundation of the University.
The financial position of the Ward Foundation has been a significant concern of SU for the past several years. The most recent independent audit reports on the foundation’s financial position, as of June 30, 2022, highlight issues such as a significant decrease in net cash flows and an increase in the line of credit balances. The report definitively states, “These issues combined create substantial doubt about the Foundation’s ability to continue as a going concern.”
As a result of this report, and in consideration of University System of Maryland policies related to Affiliated Foundations (IX-2.0) and Business Entities (VIII-13.00), SU is no longer able to maintain its business affiliation with the Ward Foundation.
The Future of the SU Carving Collection
The Ward Foundation – the non-profit organization that currently runs and staffs the Ward Museum – became an affiliated foundation of SU in 2000, with the University taking ownership of the building, the collection and the Ward Foundation’s debt of approximately $1.6 million. To date, SU has given more than $10 million in support to the Ward Foundation, along with in-kind services, in return for the foundation’s stewardship of the University’s collection, valued at some $7.2 million.
“SU and the Ward Foundation have maintained a favorable relationship for the past 23 years, and we are grateful for the care the Foundation has provided for the University’s collection,” said Dr. Karen Olmstead, SU provost and senior vice president of academic affairs.
“In light of long-standing issues in the current facility on Schumaker Pond, a misalignment of goals for the collection and activities, and the Foundation’s unsustainable financial model, SU believes the dissolution of this affiliation is in the best interest of the collection and the preservation of its cultural significance.”
“SU understands the tremendous importance of ensuring this collection is maintained and displayed as part of the proud heritage of the Eastern Shore,” said SU President Carolyn Lepre. “We will continue to invest in its preservation to ensure both current and future generations continue are able to access, enjoy and learn from these incredible works of art and the local history they represent.”
The Powell Building’s proximity to SU Downtown will allow the University to continue offering support services such as security and information technology. Additionally. Through SU’s pre-existing agreement with the City of Salisbury, parking for museum visitors will be free in City Parking Lot 1, adjacent to the building.
“SU has long been a partner and supporter of the City of Salisbury’s efforts to create a vibrant city and is excited to bring such a culturally important tourist destination to the downtown area,” said Olmstead.
Why Is the Museum Moving?
Last July, a critical HVAC failure in the Schumaker Pond building’s gallery section caused mold to appear on portions of the museum’s collection. While no permanent damage was done to the artwork, remediation efforts are still underway.
Insurance claims related to that process and the failed HVAC system were denied, exacerbating the foundation’s ongoing financial issues. Due to the need for precise climate control to best preserve artifacts for long-term display and storage, museum-quality HVAC systems are much more complicated — and much more expensive — than those typically installed in homes and most office and retail buildings.
As remediation began, the Ward Foundation and SU investigated the best way to fix or replace the HVAC system at a level appropriate to preserve the collection for the long term. State procurement estimates averaged $10 million, with the galleries remaining closed for at least another year to allow installation.
In addition to the HVAC system, other building systems, including the facility’s roof, plumbing, drainage, “envelope” (foundation, roof and walls) and more also are facing expensive maintenance issues. Total cost to rehabilitate the structure through the state procurement process is estimated at nearly $19 million.
In an effort to limit these liabilities and return public access to the collection as quickly as possible, SU and the foundation agreed that finding a new location for the museum was the best solution.
Will the Entire Collection Be on Display at the Powell Building?
Items from SU’s collection will be displayed on a rotating basis, as they were at the Schumaker Pond building. When not on exhibit, items will be cared for in climate-controlled storage at SU’s Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture and other off-site locations. The University does not intend to divest any core pieces of the collection.
Donors who currently have items on loan at the museum have been contacted to assure them that their artworks and artifacts are being properly cared for and provide the opportunity for those items to be returned if desired.
In addition to galleries, the new location will include open space to allow the continuation of educational activities that are central to the mission of SU.
What Will Happen to the Schumaker Pond Building?
Currently, there are no long-term plans for the Schumaker Pond building. The HVAC system that serves other parts of the facility beyond the gallery spaces was not impacted by the HVAC system failure, and operations have continued in areas of the building available for educational activities and private rentals.
Classes and other educational sessions will continue at the Schumaker Pond building until the Powell Building is open. Venue reservations at the current building will be honored through the end of 2023; however, no new reservations will be accepted after June 30.
SU has no immediate plans for the Schumaker Pond facility. As a state-owned building, any future sale of the property would need Maryland Board of Public Works approval, which SU is not currently seeking.
External maintenance of the structure, including the application of new siding, contracted and budgeted prior to the decision to relocate the collection, will continue. Any additional maintenance or repairs will be subject to the state procurement process, as has been the case since 2000.
Support for the Move
Understanding the strong and positive impact the museum has had in the community, SU consulted with stakeholders to ensure it will still be able to carry out its mission of education and community engagement in its new downtown space. Several Wicomico County Community members with strong ties to the museum have lauded the move and long-term plans for the collection’s preservation and display.
“We are very excited to welcome the museum to downtown Salisbury,” said Mayor Jack Heath. “The museum will make a great addition to the area’s growing collection of galleries, including SU Art Galleries Downtown and the Salisbury Art Space.
“As a destination location, we anticipate the museum also will serve as an economic driver for businesses and restaurants, and provide museum visitors with an opportunity to explore our vibrant downtown offerings.”
“For decades, the students of Wicomico County Public Schools have benefited from field trips, special exhibits and educational opportunities at the Ward Museum,” said Dr. Micah Stauffer, superintendent of Wicomico County Public Schools. “As plans for the relocation of the museum are decided, we look forward to our students continuing to learn about local history and heritage through the museum’s exhibits and activities. This is an important part of their education and their artistic cultural awareness.”
Learn more about SU and opportunities to Make Tomorrow Yours at www.salisbury.edu.