In 2019, Development Guild partnered with Farnsworth Art Museum on their executive search for a Chief Advancement Officer. We placed Ann Scheflen in the role. We recently caught up with Ann to discover how her position and the organization have evolved over the past few years.
What initially attracted you to the Chief Advancement Officer at Farnsworth Art Museum?
I had taken a hiatus from 20 years of museum work to be the Chief Philanthropy Officer at the Grand Canyon. I loved supporting a national park (and hiking with donors wasn’t too bad either!). When I saw the posting for the Chief Advancement Officer position at Farnsworth, I was pulled back to the coast and to the east. I also was looking forward to getting back to my first love: museums! I’ve seen first-hand how inspiring and life-changing art can be, particularly among youth who may have their first experience of creativity and self-expression through art making during a museum trip.
My career has taken me to some amazing places – Santa Fe, New Mexico, Jackson, Wyoming, Flagstaff, Arizona and now mid-coast Maine. I enjoyed a path less travelled in that I have chosen smaller gems and museums that are in predominantly seasonal destinations. It’s given me a chance to embrace my entrepreneurial spirit and do some amazing work where the impact is first-hand. And, I enjoy nature. At the time I accepted the role at the Farnsworth, I had another offer in Washington, DC, but I chose Maine for the quality of life here. Maine’s motto is “The way life should be.” It’s an amazing place to be, especially with all that’s happening in the world right now.
What do you enjoy most about Farnsworth Art Museum now?
The Farnsworth has a unique story to tell. Founded by a woman in 1948, we celebrate our 75th anniversary in 2023. We’re a primary tourist destination for Maine and over the 75 years we have transformed the coastal fishing city of Rockland into the “Art Capital of Maine.” We were the first museum in Maine to be accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and are a critical educational resource for K-12 schools, youth groups, nonprofit service organizations, artists, arts educators, and more.
Our singular mission is to celebrate Maine’s role in American art. Many people aren’t aware of what a profound body of work was created here by many of the most important artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, including Fitz Henry Lane, Winslow Homer, George Bellows, Marsden Hartley, Rockwell Kent, John Marin, Georgia O’Keeffe, Louise Nevelson, Robert Indiana, Alex Katz, Neil Welliver and others. Since our founding, we’ve had a special relationship with the Wyeth family and have an amazing collection of work produced in Maine by three generations of Wyeths: N.C., Andrew and Jamie.
The Museum has one of the nation’s most important special collections and serves a regional and national audience. During the pandemic, when our communications switched to a digital platform, our audience grew exponentially. The Farnsworth is one of the country’s great regional art museums.
How has your role changed since you began?
Like others in our profession, my position was vacant for some time when I started. The director and board wanted a new, fresh approach to fundraising – one that could keep pace with their plans for growth. They gave me a lot of support to make change and to build a best practice operation. I had the chance to create my own shop and, in essence, build the program from the ground up.
The existing staff were hungry too for new direction and they were ready to go. Together, we enhanced the membership program to achieve national benchmarks and it’s now growing and thriving. The annual fund too is productive and appealing to a broader and broader base of donors. We’re starting a new Patrons program for mid-level support. Along the way, we reorganized and strengthened our database and organizational processes. After 3 years, my team has tackled some tough things and the cast of characters has changed but now we are ready to bust loose.
We have a lot of momentum and an incredible amount of opportunity. We’re focused on building a national grants program and kick-starting the planned giving program – and we’re also getting ready to jumpstart a national PR and marketing effort in advance of our 75th anniversary in 2023.
Along with senior team colleagues, we’ve been stewarding the museum through a number of bigger changes too and I’ve been able to leverage my museum experience in a lot of different areas from master planning to exhibition planning to arts education and online learning and engagement.
What have been your and Farnworth’s greatest achievements over the past five years?
Inheriting and completing a campaign has to top the list of achievements. Building Tomorrow’s Farnsworth hit $12 million in January of 2022. The campaign grew our endowment, retired a legacy debt, and strengthened our financial position. Part of the campaign included comprehensive assessments of the seven buildings on our Rockland campus and the Olson House, a National Historic Landmark where Andrew Wyeth painted perhaps his most famous work, Christina’s World. We also completed a master plan with a goal of serving our community better and attracting more visitors and tourism dollars to the region.
What do you hope to achieve at Farnsworth Art Museum in the future? What is on the horizon?
On the horizon is potentially a capital campaign to address deferred maintenance and implement the top priorities identified in the master plan. We would like to create a premiere Wyeth Center for American Art that attracts art scholars and admirers from around the world, build a contemporary Pavilion and Commons to serve as a central meeting space for the community and allow us to host larger events inside and out, and expand our galleries and collection to showcase current and emerging works by the best artists working in Maine today.
Like my colleagues in the museum field, we are working on diversity – a special challenge in Maine where 95% of the population is white. And, we are very keen to focus on our donor stewardship program. Now that we have the nuts and bolts tightened, we really want to celebrate the donors who allow us to do so much for our neighbors, friends and all who love Maine.