A note from the director

Department of Arkansas Heritage - Monday, March 19, 2018

As director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, I take seriously our shared responsibility to tell the story of Arkansas. Mr. Bill Worthen, the longtime beloved former director at Historic Arkansas Museum, put it best when he said, “We protect the best of Arkansas.” As an agency of state government, we have been charged by Governor Hutchinson to look for efficiencies within our operations, and we have done that, all the while keeping an eye on our responsibilities. Change is hard, and it is often met with suspicion and resistance. But I will not apologize for asking our staff to consider a new way of doing things. It is our duty, as good stewards of the taxpayer resources we’re entrusted with, to always look for ways to streamline, be innovative, and do more with what we have. That’s good government.

Recently, a few people have expressed skepticism about the operation of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

Referring to the 2016 legislative transfer of the then-Arkansas History Commission to the Department of Arkansas Heritage, one of these individuals ominously claimed: “This means that a single state employee … has total control over our heritage as a people.” First, as director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, I do not have, nor do I want, “total control over our heritage as a people.” Secondly, this is a gross exaggeration, to put it mildly. Yes, I have an important role, one that I take very seriously. But there are many entities and individuals, such as every DAH employee, that contribute daily to our collective heritage as Arkansans.

Other misguided statements are being perpetuated about changes to our operations and facilities.

Let me reassure you: There is no effort being made to defund or close any of our facilities; we are not closing either of the regional Archives, as has been reported.

Nor are there efforts underway to dissolve any of the existing commissions or advisory boards. We are not dismantling the Black History Commission, as has been erroneously stated. We recognize and value their work.

We are not moving the Arkansas State Archives and its holdings to an inadequate warehouse. A move will be studied in the future due to lack of adequate space at the current facility, as well as concerns about climate control and humidity. But many options will be studied and only those that provide adequate space and protection for important historical documents could even be considered. Adequate parking and accessibility are also requirements. Of course, the cost involved with such an endeavor must be analyzed.

Thanks to the Governor and legislature, funding for DAH remains solid. As a division of DAH, the Arkansas State Archives now enjoys funding for marketing, so a larger audience can know about the valuable resources they hold. They also have access to Conservation Tax for special projects, like the emergency restoration of records from the basement of a waterlogged Howard County Courthouse.

The “mass defections” and “low morale” reported of late are, again, simply not true. According to the Office of Personnel Management, the state’s current turnover rate is 10.25%, and DAH’s is 7.6%. Certainly, we experience attrition as does every state agency, but we have many longtime employees that are passionate and positive about their work. I believe that constant criticism and negative rhetoric from those who say that the current administration does not care, but have yet to demonstrate how this “lack of care” has led to any cut-backs or elimination of programs, may be more of a contributor to low morale than any changes due to a still-new administration.

I am really proud of the leadership team we’ve been able to assemble at DAH. Mr. Scott Kaufman at the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program has undergraduate degrees in history and political science, as well as two master’s degrees, one in secondary education and one in public administration. Ms. Christina Shutt, director at Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, has a B.A. in history, an M.A. in history and an M.S. in library science and archives management. Mr. Patrick Ralston at the Arkansas Arts Council has a B.A. in history, and a master’s in public administration, in addition to being an artist himself. Dr. Kyle Miller at the Delta Cultural Center has a Ph.D. in higher education administration and a distinguished family history in the Delta. We’ve promoted 39-year employee and curator extraordinaire Mr. Swannee Bennett at Historic Arkansas Museum from deputy director to director, and likewise, Mr. Darrell Bowman, B.S. in Fish and Wildlife Management and M.S. in zoology, from deputy director to director at the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. Mr. Bill Gatewood, with 32 years of state government experience, remains the esteemed leader of the Old State House Museum. Finally, I hope you saw our latest announcement welcoming Dr. Wendy Richter as state historian. Wendy brings an M.A. in heritage studies, an M.A. in public history, a Ph.D. in Heritage Studies, and over three decades of archival experience to her new role as director of the Arkansas State Archives.

In conclusion, I’ll simply repeat something I’ve been correctly quoted in the press as saying: “[DAH] enjoys many long-term, fantastic employees who are passionate about their work.” We have a great team at DAH and I thank them all for staying focused, despite the negative rhetoric of those who only get personal, criticize and demonstrate no real support. We will continue to look for common sense improvements to our operations. And, with our many partners and stakeholders, we will remain engaged in our mission and do our best work every day to protect our state’s history and heritage and make it accessible for all Arkansans.

— Stacy Hurst, Director
Department of Arkansas Heritage