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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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