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New director wants Dayton peace museum to change, grow

DAYTON, Ohio — No one said running a peace museum in an Air Force town would be easy.

Not that Jerry Leggett is complaining. Trustees of the Dayton International Peace Museum recently hired Leggett as the institution’s first full-time, paid executive director, charging him with bringing what they bill as the nation’s only peace museum firmly into the 21st century.

One of Leggett’s first actions: Removing a placard from the museum’s “peace mobile” RV.

“I took down a sign on the peace mobile that said ‘War is not the answer,’” Leggett said in an interview at the Monument Avenue three-story building that is the museum’s home. “Because that’s not the message I want people to see.”

It will take more than quoting John Lennon or other notable left-of-center figures to strengthen the museum, Leggett believes.

“That’s kind of over, in a way,” he said.

He envisions a place where people might talk intelligently about guns or bullying, a place where people can check out books, where they can watch a music video or play an acoustic guitar. A place where visitors can scan smart phones over a QR code and see a digital exhibit. A place where people of any political disposition can be comfortable.

“It’s a museum,” Leggett said. “Everything can move.”

Board members liked what they saw in Leggett, a professional musician with experience in fundraising and volunteer management.

“Hiring a full-time professional director is a bold step forward in the life of the Dayton International Peace Museum,” William Shaw, president of the museum board, said in an email. “Jerry brings fresh energy and a long-standing passion for peace to the museum.”

It’s not lost on museum leaders that Dayton relies on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, one of the world’s biggest Air Force bases.

“We live in a conflicted society where both children and adults need to learn to respect differences,” said Chris Saunders, the museum’s exhibits coordinator and part of the committee that hired Leggett. “We also live in a community with a major military base, many of whose personnel support the projects of the peace museum.”

Board member Christine Dull said last year the museum spent $10,000 less than budgeted. The museum’s 2014 budget is $113,000, which includes Leggett’s salary, she said.

“This year’s budget is much larger than previous years,” Dull said. “Expanding future programs will require expanding budgets, and our new director has creative ideas for this.”

Leggett said the private museum is “absolutely in the black.” The museum’s building has been paid off, which makes it eligible for some grants. The next challenge is the building of an endowment, Leggett said.

Leggett respects the museum the way he found it, but he also believes changes must be made. He talks of making a cafe part of the site and of building a 4,000-square-foot annex. Older exhibits in the decade-old museum may need to be moved or perhaps removed altogether.

To survive and thrive, the museum must change, he believes.

“It has to happen, or this will become a very cool building that no one comes to visit,” he said.
 

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