The board of managers of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society today named Melissa N. Brown, an expert in Western New York history and the Historical Society’s director of research and interpretation, its new director.
Brown, 36, becomes the museum’s 11th director and succeeds Cynthia A. Conides PhD., who will return to her full-time job with Buffalo State College, which “loaned” Dr. Conides and her expertise to the Society for the past four years. Dr. Conides will stay on part time as curator of special projects at the Historical Society’s museum.
Brown, who helped drive the popular “Buffalo Bills 50th Anniversary Season” exhibit last fall, worked closely with Dr. Conides, the head of the college’s Museum Studies Program, on a series of recent initiatives at the Historical Society. Brown is an expert in managing collections and has consulted on more than a dozen major exhibits at the Society and at other Western New York museums.
She will transition into her new position as Dr. Conides reverts to the college by Dec. 31. This will also give Brown time to complete work on a major museum initiative “John Mix Stanley’s Trial of Red Jacket,” opening in October at the Nottingham Court museum.
“This is a logical transition of expert leadership and the board of managers is delighted that Melissa can move seamlessly to carry on the work Cynthia initiated to grow and modernize the museum,” said Joan M. Bukowski, president of the Society’s board. “We are extremely gratified that Melissa has worked her way through the museum’s hierarchy to this position of ultimate responsibility. We are impressed by her innovation and imagination and look forward to where she will take us.”
“We are also cognizant that among Buffalo’s leading cultural institutions, including the Albright-Knox, Science Museum and Zoo, the Historical Society also now has a vibrant young leader from a new generation of museum innovators,” Bukowski said.
Brown returned to her native region from Boston to join the Society’s staff in 1998 as a collections assistant. She received her M.A. in Historical Administration from Eastern Illinois University in 2000, adding to her 1995 B.A. in history with a museum studies minor from the State University of New York at Oswego.
“This of course represents a fantastic opportunity for me to build on the superior example and leadership of Cynthia Conides and continue our effort to modernize the museum and bring its exhibits up to and beyond current expectations,” Brown said. “I’m grateful to the board of managers, and the excellent staff here at the museum for this opportunity and I pledge to use all my energy and expertise to make sure we reach our shared goals.”
Dec. 31 also represents the end of the present four-year agreement between the museum and Buffalo State College. The “memorandum of understanding” allows the college, across Elmwood Avenue from the museum, to aid the museum, as it did with Dr. Conides’ involvement. The board and the college are currently negotiating an extension, which will start Jan. 1, 2011.
A resident of Gasport, Brown has been involved in nearly all the major archiving and collections work at the Society in the last 10 years. Her responsibilities included providing commentary, developing interpretive materials, facilitating exhibit design, performing historic research and scripts, and furthering and maintaining the museum’s collection.
More About The Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society
The Society’s mission is to maximize the educational potential for our community’s vast resources and abundant narratives through innovative programming, partnerships and collaborations- to share, preserve and add to our outstanding collections to tell the stories of Western New York, from the ordinary to the extraordinary. The Society’s building, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987, is the only permanent building erected for the Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo’s international fair attended by 8 million people from May to November 1901. The Exposition is best known for being the largest showcase to that time of the uses of electrical illumination. It celebrated the technological innovations that had recently harnessed the generating power of nearby Niagara Falls. During the Exposition, the building served as the New York State Pavilion and was the scene of an intensive schedule of receptions welcoming distinguished guests from around the world.
Awarded the design commission by a state-sponsored competition, young Buffalo architect George Cary (1859-1945), who had been classically trained in Paris, designed the building, faced and corniced with Vermont marble, in Doric style. The beautiful south portico, overlooking Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park, is a scaled-down version of the east front of the Parthenon, in Athens. Cary was able to complete his original design in 1927 when the building was enlarged to accommodate the present-day Library and Auditorium. Eleven relief sculptures, designed by Edmund Amateis, surround the building, each depicting a significant event in local history. The bronze entry doors, designed by J. Woodley Gosling and sculpted by R. Hinton Perry, show allegorical figures depicting “History” and “Ethnology.”
After the Exposition closed, the building became the headquarters of the Buffalo Historical Society in 1902. The Society, founded in 1862, had previously displayed its growing collections in a series of rented spaces in downtown Buffalo. Today the building hosts the Historical Society’s Research Library (collections include 20,000 books, 200,000 photographs and 2,000 manuscript collections), its Auditorium, long term exhibits BFLO Made! and Neighbors, galleries for temporary exhibits, and the Museum Shop. BECHS is a private not-for-profit organization tax exempt under Sec. 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. It receives operating support from the County of Erie, the City of Buffalo, the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA, a state agency), and from members and friends. BECHS is accredited by the American Association of Museums.