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Friday, June 7, 2013

Walt Disney Family Museum Location Discussion

Now that I have placed my endorsement for the next leader of the Walt Disney Family Museum, I’d like to provide a little background for another discussion that is resurfacing as a result of this current situation – the location of the Museum.

There are those in the community of Disney fans who believe that a Walt Disney Museum would be better served if it were located closer to where much of Walt’s legacy was created.  That would be somewhere in the Los Angeles area, and many of the advocates of that location are residents of that area, and they feel there would be a greater attraction to a Walt Disney museum that was located in an area where Walt spent most of his creative life.  There are also some who think that the Museum is something that the company he and his Brother Roy created is somehow responsible of creating.  Now, I will admit I have developed my own bias for the Museum’s locations at The Presidio of San Francisco, as it is just a bit under 50 miles from my front door, and easy for me to visit.  But, I think I understand some of the reasons it is where it is located. 

First and probably foremost, it is called the Walt Disney Family Museum, and not the Walt Disney Museum.  This is because the Museum is Walt’s family’s tribute to his legacy and of their creation.  It has very little to do with what has become the company Walt and Roy created, but, for legal reasons, the Walt Disney Company does have certain controls over what happens and what is displayed at the Museum; they don’t own or operate it.  That is solely under the direction of Walt’s surviving family.  In addition, the vast majority of artifacts on display are the property of Diane Disney Miller or her family, and many of those artifacts were stored in a warehouse on The Presidio grounds for many years.  I have heard stories of Diane taking guests to that warehouse for personal viewings, since she and her husband Ron live in the area.  It makes certain sense that when uses for The Presidio, after it was turned over as National Park Services resource, were being considered, that Walt’s family would look there first, as well as The Presidio Trust approaching the family as being a location for their Museum.

I also mentioned there were legal issues which affected the Museum.  During his lifetime, Walt created a private company, which ultimately became Retlaw (Walter spelled backwards) to protect certain property and copyright claims for his naming rights.  Upon his death, control of Retlaw passed to his wife Lillian.  In 1982 the family sold much of Retlaw to the Walt Disney Company, which consisted of certain rides at Disneyland and control of Walt Disney’s naming rights, which I understand included ownership of Walt Disney’s name, image, and voice materials.  I honestly don’t understand the reasoning behind this sale, but, I do understand there were some internal conflicts developing within Walt Disney Productions, some of which, according to my observations, seems to still exist today.  But, the main outcome is that Walt’s public company gain control of his name, image, and voice.  This has created an environment where the Museum must obtain certain approvals for what is displayed at the Museum.  So, what affect might this have on the location?  It creates a separation – geographically – between Walt the Man and Walt Disney the company, and is less likely  to have the Museum overshadowed by Disneyland or the Studio.  It also keeps the Museum closer to the family in Northern California.

Some have claimed that the Miller’s simply put the Museum at The Presidio because it was convenient for them to have close to them, without giving much thought to any other location.  They claim that Walt carefully researched – through Buzz Price – the location for Disneyland to maximize its potential visitation.  I’d like to point out that his actual first choice was a parcel location adjacent to the Studio, but the dream ended up exceeding the space all too quickly.  With the brilliant analytical skills of Buzz, Walt went on to look for a larger parcel on which to build his dream, and settled on the Anaheim location, not because it was the best place at the moment but because of the future plans in place for the area.  We should also note that the location was still relative close to Walt’s base of operations, making his oversight and development of Disneyland’s progress much easier process.  Even the Walt Disney World location was based on, in part, the local future plans being developed for the area, and not what was currently in place.  Now let’s apply a little of Walt’s thinking to the thought processes of Ron and Diane’s locating the Museum, after all Diane grew up as the daughter of this creative genius, and Ron was groomed by the master to take his place, it would make sense that some of the creative thought process would have been transferred.  First, I understand from a couple of reliable sources that there were a location of locations looked at in southern California.  No reasons given for them being excluded, but, there was some thought given to SoCal.  Next, as I said earlier, many of the artifacts were already being stored on The Presidio. 

But that fact aside, The Presidio Trust has been looking at all the way to preserve the base while making it a valuable resource for the people of the United States, since The Presidio Trust Act was passed in December of 2001. So while I have no evidence to support it, I would not be surprised to learn that it was the Trust the approached to family about creating the Museum at The Presidio.  So, let’s go back to the creation of Disneyland for a moment, because some have made the comparison, while others have dismissed this comparison as being wrong.  We all have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight to make the claim that Walt’s choice of Anaheim was a brilliant decision.  But, let’s remember that none of the access highway that were part of the basis for the decisions were actually in place or even out of the planning stage when the choice was made on Anaheim.  Since it is my belief that Walt Disney’s Family is looking at this Museum as a long term tribute to their amazing Father and Grandfather, it would make sense to be that they would look for a location, like Walt, that had a fair well developed plan for future growth, and someplace where they can more easily maintain oversight of its development and growth.

So there’s my basic synopsis of the location issue, as I understand it.  But, there are people out there who know much more than I, so if they’d like to share.  I’d be more than happy to listen to what they have to say.

So stay tuned as I try to learn more about what’s next for the Walt Disney Family Museum.

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

News from the Walt Disney Family Museum

I haven’t written much about the Museum lately, as I’ve been spending more time exploring and trying to deal with a few of my own demons.  But, there has been some big news from there in the last couple of days.  The now former CEO of the Walt Disney Family Museum resigned her position early last week.  I know it’s pretty recent because, until just the other day, Gabriella Calicchio was still listed as the CEO on their website.

I have remained pretty mum on the management of the Museum, and in particular, Ms Calicchio’s tenure which I have had some real concern about.  However, those who may have read my reviews of the Destination-D event this last August, will remember that I was none too please with Ms. Calicchio’s presentation at that event.  At the time, I said I was addressing my concerns through other channels, and I did … But, I can say now that there were many Museum members in that audience, and most express their concern and rather hurt feeling that we completely overlooked in amongst her other audience acknowledgements, and were very disappointed to learn of the rather important Snow White exhibition coming to the Museum through the D23 event and not through Museum communications.  One would have thought that the Museum members would be the first to learn of such an event.  After that session, I seemed to become a lightning rod for questions from the members in attendance, wonder WTH that was that we had just witnessed.  I addressed those concerns from the presentation directly to the Co-Founder of the Museum.

Not that I want to pile on, but, now that she is gone I can address all of my concerns more publicly.

First, my very first encounter with the New CEO was after one of the first presentations at the Museum that she introduced.  After the program had concluded and the theater was clearing, Gabriella was down in front at the podium so I went down to introduce myself and welcome her to the Museum.  I felt her curt “Thank you,” and then quick departure was rather cool, but at the time I just chalked it up to be new.  But then, when I did encounter her during other visit, I noticed almost always that she had a cell phone to her ear, or in the company of someone and talking while they walked.  From this and my first encounter, I got the distinct impression that she was cool and unapproachable to the visitors and members.  The former Director – Richard Benefield – always seemed to make time to stop and talk with the Museum’s frequently visitors, and was very approachable.  One of issue which has been on the tongue of many frequent visitors, are the presentation and program offering under Ms. Calicchio’s leadership.  While the program offering have seem to be on the increase, or at least returning to the levels offered during the first year of operations, they seem to be moving away from a Walt Disney centric group of topics.  And finally, there is a serious lack of communications with the Members of the Museum.

One of the things that was always pleased and amazed me about the Museum has been the absolute joy and friendliness of the Museum’s staff and volunteers working the events and galleries.  Again, very approachable, and ready to do whatever they can to make your visit a pleasure.  After a few months on the job for the New CEO, I noticed a difference in the attitudes and personality of most all of the staff and volunteers I encounters.  It was subtle, and probably not visible to all, but the most frequent of visitors.  Then there was the Mad Tea Party event.  Ms. Calicchio had her children in attendance with her at the party, and for the most part, all went well.  However, when her youngest child lost at one of the games that was part of the festivities, and began to sob almost uncontrollably, I saw an expression of tension and fear apparent on the faces of almost all the staff and volunteers present.  There might not be that much to this, but with all that I had already seen in the changes in the staff, this was a bit telling of the CEO’s impact on the organization.  But, probably the most amazing deficit, besides never running a museum, for any person running a Museum dedicated to Walt Disney was the fact that she, until a few months before being appointed CEO, had never visited to one of Walt’s greatest creations – Disneyland.  Now couple, what I consider an epic fail, the Snow White Exhibit presentation panel at the Destination D event, and an almost equally poor public performance during the Snow White Exhibit opening reception for VIP’s and Members at the Museum, and I can say quite publicly that my opinion that Gabriella Calicchio was the wrong person to run the Walt Disney Family Museum, an opinion born out as accurate given her recent abrupt departure.  It should also be noted that the former Director, Richard Benefield, was not very knowledgeable on the subject of Walt Disney, which I believed hampered his effectiveness as the Museum’s leader, even with his strong background in museum development and operations.

To end my review of Ms. Calicchio’s tenure as CEO of the Museum, I’ll close with a few positive notes from her tenure.  During her tenure, the membership roles at the Museum have almost doubled from 1100 to a bit over 2100 members.  An impressive increase, but still lower than I believe they could or should be if a more creative marketing was conducted.  The most impressive improvement is the increased visitors to the Museum’s galleries, given as just over 32,000 visitors in the first quarter of 2013.  A 71% increase over the first quarter in 2012.  These greatly improved numbers are, I think, a result of some changes in policies for those visiting the galleries.  First, the ‘No Photography’ in the galleries has recently been rescinded, and second two benefit visitors with young children, strollers are now allowed in the galleries.  So, I will admit that Ms. Calicchio has had some positive influence during her tenure.

As the search for a new leader of the Walt Disney Family Museum commences, I think it is important for the family to realize that the one issue which created the greatest challenges for its leaders is their lack of knowledge and understanding of legacy and impact of Museum’s primary topic – Walt Disney.  I really hope that the next CEO/Director, or as some of us would prefer – Curator, chosen by the family will be someone with a true understanding and passion for Walt Disney and his legacy.  It would seem to me that a Museum dedicated to Walt Disney needs a leader that can see and promoted a telling of Walt Disney’s life and legacy in a creative way, like the master might have done himself.  Oh all my interactions with the Museum during the last few years, I can think of one person who could fit that bill quite nicely. 

That would the person of Jeff Kurtti, Producer, Director, Author, and noted Disney Authority.  I have had the opportunity to get to know Jeff over the last few years, and have been able to attend most all of Museum programs and panels he has moderated.  I have the pleasure of counting Jeff as a friend today, but would endorse him regardless of that friendship as one of the best qualified to be the Curator of Walt’s legacy.


Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

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