News Column

Nose art gallery in jeopardy

April 30, 2014

By Jon Vanderlaan, Odessa American, Texas

April 30--The American Airpower Heritage Museum as the Permian Basin knows it poses a serious flight risk amid recent developments as the Commemorative Air Force has announced its headquarters move to Dallas Executive Airport.

Not only will the B-29 Superfortress FiFi and B-24 Liberator Diamond Lil be reassigned to a permanent home at the airport southwest of Dallas, but the iconic nose art gallery could be moved from its long-time home in Midland.

The Midland museum also will shift its focus from general WWII narratives to Midland Airfield-specific stories, and also is switching to a volunteer-only operation after renovations are made to the museum.

The Dallas Morning News posted an article that stated the Dallas Executive Airport museum would include the nose art gallery because the potential loss of state funding will make it impossible to maintain in West Texas, which was attributed to Commemorative Air Force CEO Steve Brown.

Brown has been a lightning rod for criticism in the year since announcing the headquarters would move.

He and the other leadership within the CAF said in every interview from May 2013 through mid-November that the museum would not move from Midland. In late November, however, Brown began to say that he has always maintained the museum remaining opened was subject to the state funding.

"If I didn't think that state funding was threatened, then I spoke in that context," Brown said.

James Beauchamp, president of the Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance and a vocal opponent of the move to Dallas, said the actions by the CAF show a number of broken promises and has led to the deterioration of the facility in Midland.

This one is just a continuing saga and again it just goes back to say one thing and turn around do the other," Beauchamp said.

David Smith, the executive director of the Abell-Hanger Foundation, said trying to fight the moves of the CAF would be forcing someone to do something they don't want to do.

And while he said he's resigned to the fact that possibly every remnant of the CAF could be moved from Midland, it doesn't make his perception of the CAF any better.

"It really speaks to the disingenuous nature of the organization right now," Smith said. "It's either incredibly ignorant and naive or disingenuous. It's like the truth depends on who he's talking to."

CAF Board Chairman Neils Agather said he was not sure what would happen to the nose art gallery if the $700,000 appropriated every two years was to cease, as State Rep. Tom Craddick has threatened.

"From the very beginning, we've been very clear we're not going to move the museum; make every effort possible," Agather said. "If funding is cut, it makes it hard to (not move the museum)."

When talking about the nose art moving from Midland, Agather would only say "might" and "possibly," instead of the more certain wording Brown used.

Brown said he stands by his quote to the Dallas Morning News that it would be impossible to continue the maintenance of the gallery and other artifacts that must be kept in a controlled environment.

Without funding from the state, Brown said that environmental control is not feasible at the Midland location, and they would either have to find storage for the nose art pieces or move them to a location that has other exhibits using environmental control.

Some Midland community leaders have outwardly questioned the motives of CAF leadership when it comes to the museum, much of which stems from a 2010 power struggle between the CAF and the museum board.

Two board members were accused of malfeasance and removed from the museum board in 2010 and seven others resigned amid a lawsuit between the museum board and the CAF.

While the museum board was fighting for more autonomy from the CAF, recent events have turned that around so the CAF has much more power over museum goings on, despite Brown's insistence that the two are very separate corporations.

Half of the board members on the museum board are also general staff members, including its director, Randy Wilson. Brown is also CEO of the museum -- in fact, he's CEO of all four separate corporations, which include the CAF, the museum, the flying museum and the CAF foundation.

"They're legally separate corporations," Brown said. "But does the CAF have the belief and the oversight to make sure things are taken care of? Absolutely."

Brown said this doesn't create problems and the CAF, the museum board and all involved have the best interests of the museum in mind.

Beauchamp said the museum board was previously autonomous, but since the lawsuit is not.

"It's not autonomous. It's all one thing and it's a little empire that he's built," Beauchamp said. "It's great for him, but it really sucks for West Texas."

Previously, the nose art gallery was safe. Now, it could move.

Nine months ago, most artifacts were going to stay at the Midland museum except a small number that would go on loan elsewhere. Now, the entire focus of the Midland museum will change with artifacts and exhibits not specific to the Midland Airfield going elsewhere.

"You're pulling every meaningful exhibit out of this museum and shipping it off to others," Beauchamp said. "That would be like me saying I'm going to keep this 7-Eleven open on the corner but we're not going to sell gas and we're not going to sell soft drinks or a stick of gum, but you can come look in the window."

Between 15 and 20 positions will be leaving the Midland CAF location, Brown said.

€‹Contact Jon Vanderlaan on twitter at @OAcourts, on Facebook at OA Jon Vanderlaan or call 432-333-7763.


(c)2014 the Odessa American (Odessa, Texas)

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Source: Odessa American (TX)

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