Archibald Exits with Legacy Tainted; Museum Leader Transformed Institution and Its Image before Hail of Criticism; HISTORY MUSEUM

By Hunn, David | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), December 23, 2012 | Go to article overview

Archibald Exits with Legacy Tainted; Museum Leader Transformed Institution and Its Image before Hail of Criticism; HISTORY MUSEUM


Hunn, David, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


ST. LOUIS Robert R. Archibald believed that St. Louis was divided by race, that children should get an excellent education regardless of their skin color or income level, and that his job as president of the Missouri History Museum was to connect the community to the past and help solve such thorny problems.

But for the past three months, Archibald, 64, weathered wearying criticism for other issues: a soured land deal, his compensation package and nearly 400 unused vacation days for which he was due a large payout.

Tuesday, he resigned under duress. Friday, the museums Board of Trustees accepted his resignation.

In its wake, leaders from across the city came forward to describe a man who transformed the museum over a quarter-century at its helm and volunteered countless hours for civic causes.

Museum Trustee Frank Steeves stood in the buildings expansion wing on Friday and told reporters they were standing in Archibalds legacy.

Archibald, said Steeves, took this museum from a sleepy little place that didnt really make a difference to a big pillar of the community. Then he pointed to schoolchildren touring the museum.

This whole group of children that came through, Steeves said, thats Bob.

Now, however, trustees such as Steeves face months of uncertainty the fallout from controversies that started in September, raising questions about the museums finances and leadership.

Archibalds last day at the museum is Dec. 31. As part of his separation deal, he received a six-month, $270,000 consulting contract, but its unclear how involved hell be in day-to-day operations.

And while his resignation may end debate over his salary and benefits, critics still insist that oversight of the museum must change.

A city alderman has not given up plans to hold public hearings, demand confidential records and even subpoena museum trustees to appear before him.

And museum leaders must repair an image so damaged that they expect millions of dollars less in donations next year.

EXPANSION AND SUPPORT

Archibald, a native of Michigans Upper Peninsula, started at the museum in 1988, just after it became part of the regions Zoo-Museum District, making it eligible for tax support. It now gets roughly $10 million a year from a property tax collected in St. Louis city and county.

Within five years, Archibald got the museum accredited by the American Association of Museums. A year later, in 1994, the Institute for Museum and Library Services awarded it one of its top honors, commending it as a model for creating programs that use history as a context for todays concerns, according to the museum.

He purchased and renovated a 104,000-square-foot research center on South Skinker Boulevard, raised $20 million for an expansion, boosted attendance and spearheaded an information technology renaissance at the museum, which aims to electronically catalog museum artifacts and make the archives interactive.

The History Museum and its renaissance under his tenure has been just spectacular, said Robbyn Wahby, a senior staffer and education aide to Mayor Francis Slay.

In October, the American Association for State and Local History, which Archibald once chaired, gave him its Award of Distinction in recognition of his service to historical work.

I have to tell you, hes a rock star, said Terry Davis, president and CEO of the association. Hes at the top of the list.

Over the years, Archibald also served on the boards of major civic organizations pushing race equity, Forest Park upkeep, government reform, the environment and new trails. He was president of a board promoting a trolley line from the Delmar Loop to the museum.

When civic concern about the St. Louis Public Schools was building, Archibald ran for the School Board, winning a seat and serving from 1993 to 1997.

Archibalds civic work brought him close to mayors, company executives and other key officials, including several black leaders.

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