Retiring Holland Museum executive director reflects on legacy of inclusion, growth

Over the past nearly seven years, Ricki Levine has led the Holland Museum’s transformation into an inclusive community hub, where every voice and story finds its place. 

Levine, who announced she’s retiring at the end of June as the museum’s executive director, has been instrumental in shaping the Holland Museum's identity. 

Under her  guidance, the museum earned reaccreditation from the prestigious Alliance of American Museums, received the Peninsulas Prize for DEAI and the Social Justice Award for Education, and expanded its programming and exhibits to encompass the rich tapestry of the community. 

"She has not only steered the museum through a period of significant change but also laid the foundation for a sustainable and impactful future,” says Holland Museum Board Chair Chanda Miller. “We are incredibly grateful for her contributions and wish her all the best in her retirement." 

In preparation for Levine's departure, the museum has formed a search committee and partnered with interSector Partners, L3C, a local, socially purposed consulting firm specializing in nonprofit leadership searches. The search for the museum’s next executive director has begun. 

The Lakeshore connected with Levine for a Q&A to reflect on her time with the museum. 

The Lakeshore: How do you think your background in the arts, managing the Frauenthal Center in Muskegon, St. Cecilia Music Center in Grand Rapids, and Mason Street Warehouse in Saugatuck, prepared you to lead the history-focused Holland Museum? 

Ricki Levine: My background as a leader in arts and culture transitioned very well in my role here. There are many similarities in non-profits in the arts genre. The overall needs and structure are quite similar. Of course, there was a learning curve to understand museums, terminology and best practices.  I was, and still am fortunate, to have an incredibly strong professional staff who I learn from daily. I also immersed myself into the field, knowing that I had much to learn.

TL:  What was your vision when you became executive director, and what was your strategy for implementing that vision? 

RL: The need that I saw prior to accepting the position was that this small history museum was not telling the story of everyone who lives in this community. The Holland Museum effectively shares the rich and important history of the Dutch immigrants, but very little about others who make this vibrant area thrive. I shared during my interview process that if I was to be offered the position, a primary focus must be to expand programs and exhibits to share the rich stories of those who were not represented in the galleries. With support from the board and the staff, (many who were already of the same mindset), we started on that road, building relationships  and listening to those who have “untold” stories. Instead of the museum telling these stories on our own, we work with individuals and organizations directly to share them through exhibits and programs. This work is not done by any means. It is a work in progress.

TL: What are some of the Holland Museum's biggest accomplishments under your leadership?

RL:  I am incredibly proud of what we have been able to do since I started in 2017. We were able to add Spark!Lab Smithsonian exhibit 5 ½ years ago, one of a handful of such exhibits in the country. This hands-on workplace allows children and their families to learn the process of invention with fun and changing activities. The number of families and children who enjoy this exhibit has had a positive impact on our membership. We were awarded the museum accreditation renewal for the full 10 years, have built robust education program series, Cultural Lens, Tales from the Archives, and exhibit-related programming which have become regular destinations for many in the community. We are now open for free the second Monday each month and hold an annual free Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day, which celebrates the civil rights movement and Dr. King’s legacy. The museum is no longer a “hidden” treasure. More and more members of the community are aware that we exist and, more importantly, have something to offer everyone.

TL: The Holland Museum was recently honored with a social justice award for education by the city of Holland. What does receiving this accolade mean for you and your staff? 

RL: This was a tremendous honor, and one we are very proud of. It affirms that the work we are doing is resonating with members of the community and is valued. Museums are educators, and we strive to expand our visitors' knowledge and experiences. Telling everyone’s stories is a big part of that work.

TL: What's next for you in your retirement? Will you continue to be involved with the museum and/or the community?

RL: I am not entirely sure. Initially, I plan to enjoy the summer and all that our beautiful area offers during the season. I will continue to serve on the board of directors for LNA (Lakeshore Nonprofit Alliance), and suspect I will find other things to do that fulfill my passions for and with the community.
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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.