CHAPEL HILL - Ernest Dollar, who has run the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill for the past five years, will leave Monday to become the executive director of the Raleigh City Museum.
“I can say that my time here has been the most meaningful of my career,” said Dollar, who directed the Orange County Historical Museum for three years before joining the Preservation Society in March 2007. “It’s been a wonderful experience, and I’ve heard so many kind words. The thought of leaving Chapel Hill is very difficult.
“But this is an exciting opportunity to get back to museum operations, which is where my background is, and to join an organization that is undergoing a serious rebuilding.”
Dollar made the announcement by email Aug. 28.
Troy Burton, the Raleigh City Museum administrator, confirmed the museum was finalizing the appointment but had no announcement yet. “In city government we have very specific processes for this sort of thing,” he explained. “We’re in the last ten meters of the race, but we’re not technically across the finish line just yet.”
The City of Raleigh took on responsibility for operations and programs of the Raleigh City Museum in June. Since opening in 1993, the museum had been run by a nonprofit organization, with most of its funding coming from annual grants by the city.
“The nonprofit was having a hard time getting funding from sources other than the city, and they felt that in the long run their model just wasn’t sustainable,” Burton said. “We felt there were some potential synergies there with some of our other historic resources and museum programs, and for about the same amount of money we’d been giving in annual support we could assume responsibility for the museum and have intellectual and operational oversight.”
The city’s Historical Resources and Museum Program, an element of the Parks and Recreation Department, will manage the museum. The Raleigh City Museum has been closed for remodeling during the transition, and Burton said the department will install new programs and exhibits. The museum, at 220 Fayetteville St., will be open for the First Friday gallery walk this week and will mark its official re-opening on Tuesday.
Dollar said he has accomplished most of what he wanted at the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill.
“My main goal was to reintroduce the society to the community, regain the public’s confidence, and rededicate the organization to the mission it was formed to perform,” he said. “I think we’ve done that. More and more, we see people coming to us as a resource and reference. We’re back on the radar screen in the community, and the Preservation Society has been doing what it’s supposed to be doing.”
Among the high-profile projects Dollar has led in recent years are
• the successful renovation of the Strayhorn House (the Preservation Society’s first project in Carrboro);
• the ongoing effort to preserve the Hogan-Rogers House in the Rogers Road neighborhood, as well as the DNA analysis that linked an Atlanta woman, Deardra Green-Campbell, to the house via her great-great-great grandmother, a slave; and
• ground-penetrating radar studies of local African-American graveyards to identify long-forgotten resting places.
“He has done far above what we expected out of a 30-hour-a-week position in a small nonprofit with financial struggles, no town support, and very little to no university support,” said Laurie Norman, a Preservation Society board member, trustee and past president who was co-chair of the search committee that hired Dollar. “He has helped us not only survive, but thrive.
“It’s been a great ride, but we knew that, given his caliber, historical knowledge and dedication, someday somebody would be able to outbid us. That day has come. We’re sorry for that, but we’re fortunate enough to have a very, very capable assistant in Cheri Szcodronski and an excellent board, and we’ll be able to limp along as we figure out our next steps.”
The Preservation Society is planning a big 40th anniversary gala on Sept. 14, which Dollar plans to attend.
“That will be the perfect ending to a wonderful career here,” he said.
Dollar said he’s looking forward to helping guide the Raleigh City Museum in its new incarnation as a city program. He’s looking forward to a few perks, too.
“I’ll actually get an office,” he said. “For the past eight and half years, as executive director of two different organizations, I’ve never had my own office.”
As for the town he’ll be leaving behind, Dollar said he hopes it will commit the energy and resources to preserve not only the structures but the stories of the past.
“If Chapel Hill cares about its history, it has to make the effort to preserve it,” he said. “You can’t erase history, but if you’re not careful you can lose it.”