The Staten Island Museum is set to open a long-awaited expansion this month
by JENNIFER VIKSE Photos By © Amessé Photography
On a recent Wednesday, Cheryl Adolph’s schedule was full. She spent part of her morning giving a guided tour of the Staten Island Museum’s tobe-opened expansion, oversaw the delivery of a Steinway piano to the space, and huffed out to a storage unit to check out some old maps dating back to the early 1900s.
It’s all in a day’s work for the Interim President and CEO of Staten Island’s oldest museum.
“There is no typical day,” Adolph confessed. “I’m just a deeply curious person and I get to do a lot of interesting things.”
At the end of summer, Adolph and the staff at the Staten Island Museum were busy readying its newest home—Building A on the grounds of Snug Harbor Cultural Center—for its grand opening in mid-September, a project that’s been in the works for nearly 50 years.
Back in the 1960s, the Staten Island Museum led the charge to save the former Sailor’s Snug Harbor by giving up its city allocated funding to help purchase the site and designate it as a New York City landmark. The historic Greek Revival building (Building A, originally built in 1879) will become the latest addition to the museum’s portfolio, with the Island’s “first museum quality space,” Adolph said. (Building B was also earmarked for the museum and will be its next project, she shared.)
The road to this grand opening has been a long but cooperative one, explained Adolph, who has been with the museum for 11 years. Hired by her friend and mentor Elizabeth Egbert (the beloved head of the museum for 12 years until her death a year ago), Adolph learned all she could from Egbert and enjoyed being part of the team she created.
“She worked tirelessly on this until the day she died,” Adolph said of Egbert’s ambition for the expansion project. “That’s what you need—you need someone with that passion to get this done. That’s what happened among Elizabeth, the board, and the staff.”
She said that collaboration among museum staff, board, city agencies, and others is “a complete success story from all points.”
So now, almost 100 years after the museum opened its first new building on September 18, 1918, the expanded museum will, after four years of construction, open on Saturday, September 19, 2015 at 10:00 a.m.
Since losing her friend and mentor last year, Adolph and her team have made certain that the project stayed on track.
“I promised her…and have worked every day since to make it happen. I had 20 years to watch her in action. I certainly take a lot of pages from her book, I’ve been trained to do this,” said the president, who in addition to absorbing everything Egbert taught her, has completed the Developing Leaders Program and the 2015 Senior Leaders Program, both at Columbia Business School. Previously the chief operating officer of the museum, Adolph earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Southern Illinois University where she also completed three years of postgraduate studies in English Literature. “I learned to really maximize how the organization is run. You put the right pieces in place and watch the action—it really matters who you have on your team, and we owe it to each other to get to the finish line.”
After 11 years at the museum (which started with just a three-days-per-week position), Adolph feels she is in the right place at the right time. With an arts background and having also worked at the Staten Island Children’s Museum with Egbert, as well as in information technology, she is uniquely positioned for her current role.
“I feel like over the past 12 to 20 years, I was really groomed for this. She [Egbert] was incredibly demanding, her standards were very high and so are mine. It was a good fit. Like everybody here on this team, I work hard every day. All of this energy has made possible a real leap forward for the museum.”
All of the pieces of the project fit beautifully into place, Adolph recalled. “The city is invested in this, and we had an amazingly supportive DCA [Department of Cultural Affairs] working with us. The construction firm—they really fell in love with our building. It was the best possible outcome. It was one of those moments where it all fit. These people worked so well together. It’s just been an incredible experience.”
In addition to the sleek, modern new space, the exhibitions themselves are a bold leap forward.
“All of our exhibits are collections based, some of which have never been seen before. I think this is going to be an extreme point of pride,” noted Adolph. “It’s part of what makes us unique, and uniquely New York. That is really going to draw people in and help anchor Snug Harbor as a cultural destination.”
For the museum head, who has lived on Staten Island for over 20 years, living and working in the same place is also a great experience. A proud resident of Stapleton, Adolph said she is a Navy brat, born in Virginia, and has lived all over the world.
“But I love it here,” she said. “I love being near the water. There’s something about seeing water…big ships. My mom and dad are from South Dakota so the roots there are deep and strong, but I really love living here.”
The mother of a 12-year-old daughter who participated in the museum’s summer camp, Adolph also loves having all the important pieces of her life in a tight radius.
“I’ve crafted my life, my work, my daughter’s school, church—all within 15 minutes…that’s curating life,” she said with a smile.
The philosophical bedrock for Adolph is to work hard, give back to the community, and give credit where credit is due.
“It’s always been about us and what we do together,” she said. “At the end of the day, you need to ask what you’re bringing back to your neighborhood…your borough. There is something very special about working in and for your community.”
Staten Island Museum
718.727.1135 / statenislandmuseum.org