Phil Wallis steps down from museum

Museum Executive Director Phil Wallis, shown here at the 2019 gala for the Martha's Vineyard Museum, is stepping down. — Lexi Pline

Phil Wallis is stepping down as the executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, the museum announced in a press release and an email to museum supporters Saturday.

Known for his bow ties, beaming smile, and seemingly endless positive attitude, Wallis helped orchestrate the museum’s move from Edgartown to its new venue in Vineyard Haven at the site of the former Marine Hospital.

Wallis has been the leader of the museum for the past four years. The move comes as the museum remains closed to the public due to the ongoing pandemic — a summer of events and exhibits on hold.

In its first year in Vineyard Haven, the museum attracted more than 27,000 visitors, more than five times the attendance of the previous year, according to the release. The museum also had 2,100 members join the organization, and its education program had a 90 percent increase over previous years.

“I couldn’t be prouder of all that we have accomplished,” Wallis said in the release. “I am a builder and creator of visions, and I came here to help make the longstanding dream of a new museum worthy of the Vineyard come true. Together with the fantastic staff, board, donors, and volunteers, and all of the town officials who supported our vision, we were able to build a world-class facility that exceeded all expectations. The museum is now ready for a new chapter to be written and told, to advance the success we have created together.”

Stever Aubrey, chairman of the museum’s board of directors, called Wallis the “perfect person” to lead the museum’s big move. “Without his combination of enthusiasm, dedication, outreach, and energy, we would not today be in our fantastic new campus in Vineyard Haven, let alone having been able to simultaneously increase our reach across all the Island communities, throughout the schools, among older adults, and to families of all ages,” Aubrey said in the release. “I am so proud of our success, and we have more to do. I feel strongly that the next chapter will be equally as successful. Thank you, Phil, for what you have done for us all. We wish you well.”

In the release, Wallis said it’s the right time for him to move on. “The organization needs new skills to manage the next phase,” he said in the release. “The museum’s growth potential is extraordinary, and will happen. But it is also a time for national pause, for a major reset, which also factors into my decision. No one knows when a new normal will emerge. The impact on us all, particularly the museum, has been hard. My stepping down will allow for the right person at the right time to be selected.”

Wallis said he and his wife, Carolyn, intend to remain on the Vineyard. “We love the Island and all it has given back to us,” he said in the release. “We, too, will create our new chapter on the Vineyard.”

Wallis will remain as an advisor on special projects to the museum through the summer.
Heather Seger, currently the advancement director, will serve as the interim executive director.