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Rock County Historical Society changing leadership

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
April 2, 2012
— With new plans under way to more closely link the Lincoln-Tallman House to local culture and economic and community development, the Rock County Historical Society is changing its leadership at the top.

Joel Van Haaften, executive director of the historical society and the Lincoln-Tallman House campus since 2009, will step down this month, the historical society announced over the weekend.


The historical society has launched a search for a new director. Board president Chuck Rydberg said the group will seek a leader who'll embrace a business model that seeks to position the Tallman campus as an "anchor in the city's arts and entertainment district."


Rydberg said traditional, velvet-rope "house museums," such as the city-owned Tallman House can no longer fully support themselves.


"They aren't financially viable as museums themselves," Rydberg said. "What we need to do is re-create the campus really as an event center for a wider array of cultural events."


He said those plans require a director with extensive experience and skill in working with possible business and community partners.


"We're looking for a different skill set in our director," he said. "Joel was hired primarily for museum curating. Business and development skills are big part of what we're now looking for."


Rydberg would not give details of the decision to replace Van Haaften, but he called it "a mutual decision at this point." He said that Van Haaften plans to take some time off.


In February, the historical society went into a new phase of fundraising to allow redevelopment of properties on the Tallman campus to create space for meetings and events.


For instance, Rydberg said, one plan includes a possible "adaptive re-use" of the Tallman carriage house as a "driver for economic activities." The building could get 45-seat space in its upstairs for family reunions, parties and business meetings, along with fully accessible bathrooms and a food preparation area.


Rydberg and Brad Cantrell, a retired city of Janesville employee, will lead the search committee for a new director. Rydberg said the historical society will likely begin interviewing candidates in May.


Meanwhile, former board President Duke Ellingson is stepping in as interim director at the Tallman House. Ellingson will liaison between the board and Tallman staff.


Janesville resident Jackie Wood is taking over this month as board president.



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