County Hires Aggressive Fundraiser To Lead Museum

San Bernardino County has hired the former executive director of the Western Museums Association to serve as the director of the San Bernardino County Museum.
Melissa A. Russo, who over the past six years has been the director of institutional advancement at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, will begin as the county museum director on Monday, October 19.
She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from UCLA and a master’s degree in Art History from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She was an adjunct faculty member in museum studies with John F. Kennedy University in Berkeley, the executive director of the Pardee Musuem and Foundation in Oakland and the registrar at the Glessner House Museum in Chicago
She is married to John Russo, who has been Riverside’s city manager since May and was city manager of Alameda for four years prior to coming to Riverside and before that served as the elected city attorney of Oakland for 11 years and Oakland city councilman for nearly six years.
The couple has 16-year-old twins.
Melissa Russo, who also uses the name Melissa Rosengard, has touted her fundraising skills, which in the context of the Bay Area were boosted as a consequence of her husband’s various governmental and political positions. She now finds herself in a somewhat similar circumstance, as San Bernardino and Riverside counties are contiguous and intrinsic elements of the Inland Empire, such that there is considerable financial, governmental, entrepreneurial and social overlap between the two jurisdictions.
Russo’s arrival comes after a string of setbacks for the museum, which has lost its accreditation, suffered budget cuts imposed on it by the county, endured declining attendance, and the resignations of museum director Robert McKernan and senior historic curator Michele Nielsen, accompanied by the losses of the museum’s curators of education, anthropology, geological and biological sciences. Revenue at the facility declined by 63 percent between 2010 and 2014. Over the last year, interim museum director Leonard Hernandez ushered in a number of exhibits and promotional programs which resulted in an attendance increase during fiscal year 2014-15 of 32 percent.
The museum recently hired history and anthropology curators and is actively seeking a biological sciences curator. The San Bernardino County Museum Association intends to seek reaccreditation in 2017. The San Bernardino County Museum extends to its main museum campus in Redlands, the Victor Valley Museum in Apple Valley, and historic sites in Chino, Colton, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands and Yucaipa.
In her interview with the museum association, Russo said she believes the museum can be rejuvenated through a new operational model and by investing in modernized interactive features that will make it more accessible and appreciated by children and adults.

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