The James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, in Laura Hine’s estimation, has gone through two distinct phases.
The first began in April 2018, when the doors opened on the stylish, 88,000-square-foot downtown building containing Tom and Mary James’ extensive, expansive collection of paintings and sculpture.
Hine, who’d worked as project manager during the facility’s design and construction phases, was named executive director, succeeding Bernice Chu, in 2019.
That, to her, began Phase Two. She’s quick to praise the members of her team. “We figured out who we are, and who we want to be in the world,” Hine says. “We’ve worked on an organizational structure, a budget, mission, vision, values, exhibition schedules, revenue and expenses, and what a five-to-10 year budget projection could look like and how to achieve it, getting the right people in the right places … really, it’s been amazing.”
Two years ago, she was elected to the Pinellas County School Board, representing District 1.
Last week, she announced her resignation from the James Museum.
“I know that it’s time for this Phase Three leader who’s going to take it into the future,” Hine says, “and continue developing it into the amazing community asset that it has become.” She will stay on until her eventual successor is installed.
There was, Hine says, no single reason for her departure, nothing easy to point to. She merely feels she has more to accomplish. As a Navy veteran with six years’ active duty on her resume, she recognizes and relishes a challenge.
“I think that there is additional need now in the realm of public education advocacy and public service,” she explains. “And it’s a place I’ve felt, as I’ve gotten more and more engaged in it, and had the opportunity to be in the role that I am on the school board, more and more inspired to really put my fulltime energy into it.
“I believe that public education is our backbone – it’s the backbone of a community, and of a country, and it has to be strong. As strong as our military, as strong as our industry. I feel that passionately.
“And on the electorate side, I would like to help solve what feels like gridlock, and election-driven leadership that’s dividing us. I want to work towards a system that incentivizes problem-solving. And better serves its customers at the end of the day – we the people.”
As to what form this will take, she isn’t certain. She only knows she needs to devote her energy and attention to both public education advocacy (and improvement) and working towards bringing the divided factions of the country closer.
“The system,” Hine says, “feels stuck. And I don’t have all the answers, but I feel committed to helping make it work better so that this country thrives into the future.
“Whatever it is I have to offer, I’m ready to lend to that realm. And so I have to let this go.”
“This,” of course, meaning the James Museum.
She and her husband, Dali Museum executive director Hank Hine, have two young children at home – one in the third grade, the other in sixth. So “mom” is another one of her job titles. “I feel like I’ve been a very capable, prepared school board member,” Hine says. “I feel like I’ve done well in that role, and I think I’ve been – I hope I’ve been – a strong museum director.”
“We are grateful for all Laura has accomplished at the museum; her leadership has seen us through novel challenges, great successes and set a solid path forward,” Tom James said in a prepared statement.
“At the end of the day,” Hine concludes, “it was about people. About putting words to a mission, developing our mission and vision along with our museum staff and board of directors. Working with people to achieve that common mission, to help them thrive. That’s the role of a leader.
“It was an entirely gratifying experience, and that’s what makes it a really difficult decision to leave.”