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Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum celebrates 13th birthday

By Staff | Nov 26, 2008


On Nov. 18, The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum officially celebrated its 13th birthday. The museum is a facility of the Shell Museum and Educational Foundation, Inc. The Foundation was created in 1985 with “seed money” donated by Charlene McMurphy of Sanibel. It was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization the following year.

A gift of land from Sanibel Island brothers John, Francis and Sam Bailey in 1990 (in memory of their parents, Frank P. Bailey and Annie Mead Matthews), and the inclusion of noted malacologist R. Tucker Abbott, Ph.D., as a consultant and eventually founding director, set the wheels in motion.

In 1993, the museum opened its campaign office and acquired a bank loan to complement a construction grant from the State of Florida Cultural Facilities Program. The grand opening was held on Nov. 18, 1995.

In February 1996, malacologist José H. Leal, Ph.D., was hired as director. In 1997, the museum became the publisher of The Nautilus, the second-oldest English language shell science journal in the world, with Dr. Leal serving as editor.

Several years after opening, the museum began offering a formal field trip program for Lee County public school fourth graders on a cost-sharing basis. The R. Tucker Abbott Visiting Curatorship, a collection-based research award, was created in 1997 by the Board of Trustees. In July 1999, the museum liquidated its original bank debt and, in May 2000, established its Cultural Endowment Fund.

In 2006, the Museum received a long-awaited $240,000 Cultural Endowment Matching Grant from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs. Its endowment now surpasses $1.2 million dollars.

In addition to its 34 exhibits, public programs and in-house resources, the museum has initiated collaborations with national and international educational and research institutions, offering facilities in its collection and research area for visiting researchers, interns and students. Resources are used by national and international professionals in the fields of environmental and marine sciences, biology, and ecology.

The museum has established strong ties with many public and private sector organizations, including the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization, Smithsonian Institution, American Malacological Society, Conchologists of America, Museu de Zoologia and Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil, Florida Museum of Natural History, Conchologists of America, Southwest Florida Library Network, Sanibel Public Library, The Sanibel School, Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce, Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce, Lee County’s Visitor and Convention Bureau and Tourist Development Council, as well as the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club and other shell clubs throughout Florida.

In 2003, the museum participated in the American Association of Museums’ (AAM) Museum Assessment Program, and in 2004, in the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ Conservation Assessment Program. In March 2007, after board approval of a new “Comprehensive Strategic Plan,” collections policy, and institutional code of ethics, the museum applied to the AAM’s Accreditation Program. The institutional self-study was submitted in September 2008.

“It’s been a privilege to contribute to the growth and development of the museum,” said Dr. Leal. “Watching the mission and vision of the museum come to life through program expansion, volunteer organization growth, the addition of expanded staff roles, and outreach to the local and professional community has been exciting. Despite momentary challenges — like dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Charley — it’s been a wonderful ride.”

Over the last 12 years, the museum has evolved from a quaint local attraction to a well established and internationally recognized natural history museum.

For more information, visit the museum’s Web site at www.shellmuseum.org.