Newly appointed as the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art’s Executive Director, Laura Hine considers herself part of a team – sure, she’s at the head of the team, but the success of any endeavor depends on all the parts working together harmoniously.
“I see myself as a facilitator/leader of people,” Hine explains. “I love people.” A licensed contractor for more than a decade, Hine was, in fact, project manager for the 88,000-square-foot museum, overseeing every aspect of its design and construction.
While at the Beck Group, a billion dollar multi-national company, she co-chaired the corporation wide 10-year strategic planning process. “I like construction and architecture because it’s a team – electricians, plumbers, concrete people,” she says. “I’m none of those things.
“But boy, I love to be in the room and say ‘How are we going to do this?’ and ‘How are we going to make it great?’”
Since its grand opening in the spring of 2018, the $75 million, nonprofit state-of-the-art museum, which houses part of financier Tom James’ extensive collection of contemporary western art, hasn’t quite performed to expectations.
Laura Hine’s got a fix on things.
“I think that for the last year and a half, the museum has almost been drinking from a firehose, in the sense of needing to get operational,” she exclaims. “Needing to get the day-to-day operations intact.
“And it is good. The people, the visitor services people in the galleries … there is so much that is being done exactly right. I think now is a really perfect time to lift our heads up – the senior management team is excellent – to gain a board of trustees, and for us to all start doing some strategic planning. And have a written mission and vision.
“And develop some departmental goals. What are our attendance goals? What do our revenue predictions look like? It’s the perfect time to put some more work into that. And that’s something I’m very excited about. This is an organization that I care very much about. And it’s still in its infancy. It’s ready for that ‘What do I want to be?’ and ‘What do I do to become that?’”
Although she was a participant in the James project since day one, almost, Hine admits that she has not before now been involved on an operational scale. “I have a lot to learn,” she says. “And I have a lot of listening to do. They’ve got some great people in place here, and I’m looking forward to listening what they think the challenges are.”
Said James, in a prepared statement: “Laura possesses important leadership qualities including business sense, common sense, and strong interpersonal skills. Now that the museum is in a strong position when it comes to daily operations, we will broaden our team … and take actions necessary to ensure the long-term vitality of the museum.
“Laura’s skills will be instrumental to this.”
Tampa-born Laura Tillinghast spent four years in the United States Naval Academy, where she earned a degree in Aerospace Engineering. This was followed by six years of active duty, spent aboard ships in some of the most polarized combat zones of the world. She also played Division One volleyball for the Navy.
Question: How long were you in the Navy?
Hine: “All me bloomin’ life. Me mother was a mermaid, me father was King Neptune. I was born on the crest of a wave, rocked in the cradle of the deep.”
Naval personnel are trained to recite this strange little maritime verse whenever they’re asked about their service. The winners in combat, it is said, are the ones whose officers and crew react instinctively.
After more than a decade out of that Navy, that Hine can still “react instinctively” says a lot about the laser focus she intends to bring to the James Museum.
“I love this museum and I’m excited about the artwork,” she says. “And we want it to thrive. That is the essence of who we are.
“And I would say that my role here is providing the essence of leadership – to this team, to these people – to make this place the best it can be.”
From University of South Florida St. Petersburg, she got an MBA. At the Beck Group, she built more than $100 million in construction projects, “from aviation to retail to pharmaceutical lab to parking garages. When you manage a construction project, it means budget, schedule, people, resources, problems, successes, leadership …”
Ten years ago, she married Hank Hine, executive director of the Dali Museum. They have two young children, and worked together to found the groundbreaking nonprofit Friends of North Shore Elementary. Laura Hine spent two years as the school’s forward-thinking PTA president.
When Tom James offered her the ED spot at his museum, she didn’t have to think too long and too hard before saying yes. She’d been working with James and his wife, Mary, for a while and got along wonderfully with them. And Hank Hine was on the James Museum’s advisory board.
Advice from her husband, Hine says, helped her overcome any doubts she might have. “Hank said ‘You can never discount the role of caprice in life.’ He never imagined he would be a museum director. He’s an academic, he’s an artist, he’s a publisher … he said that when the Dali opportunity came up, it was caprice.”
And so two of St. Petersburg’s great art destinations are being steered by members of the same family. A nascent dynasty? A monopoly in the works? Not to worry, Hine says. “I have a unique skill set that’s completely different from his.”
At the end of the day, it’s all about St. Petersburg, and doing one’s part to make a great, strong community.
“We are just getting to where we have this critical mass of unique arts experiences,” Hine explains. “And now we have to decide what to do with that. I think the city, and the region, needs to decide ‘Here we are – what do we want to be?’ As far as we as a community and as a region tell the story that this is a wonderful place to live, and this is a wonderful place to visit. And the arts have a lot to do with that.”
She’s looking forward to being more of an active participant. “I love a lot of things, and I have a lot of interests. And I think people is at the base of it, really just working with people is what makes me come alive. And then I hope that the work we’re doing is good work in the world.”