Thursday, May 21, 2009

An Open Letter from The Mount's Chairman of the Board

Last year, before the current economic meltdown, The Mount faced having no money, our founding Executive Director had resigned, a shaken staff did not know whether to come to work and a foreclosure date had been set for one month hence.

In the ensuing months, we raised over $1.4 MM through a grass roots, Obama-like internet campaign involving many hundreds of donors, many giving only $5 or $10; Susan Wissler stepped up and rallied our depleted staff; we negotiated month-to-month forbearance agreements with our creditors, and met every milestone that was required by our creditors in order to obtain successive extensions; in spite of all odds, we managed to open last summer and had a very good season; we reached out to the community, including our fellow cultural not-for-profits in the Berkshires, and began to repair relations; we restored the confidence of our lenders; the Board took stock of what The Mount was and what it could become, spoke to our many supporters about expanding our mission beyond being merely a museum show house and garden and came upon the idea of creating a center for the written word, thus providing The Mount with a legitimate basis to greatly expand its appeal and activities; and the Board commissioned a study to validate this concept and plan its development.

Over a period of three months we negotiated a restructuring agreement with our principal creditors, which was executed last March, but required at least a $700,000 funding commitment from one or more donors by May 31, 2009 to become effective.

To our great luck and fortune, members of the JM Kaplan Family became aware of our plight and reached out and provided the necessary funds.

While we are not “saved”, we are now in a position to complete our second consecutive fiscal year in the black (our year ends March 31). We now can play some “offense”, rather than only “defense”, and can begin to put into place meaningful elements of our new programming. Furthermore, we fully expect that our achievements and commitment will give both regular and new donors the confidence in us to step up and give, thereby further strengthening our position to the point where we can confidently state publicly that “The Mount is Saved”.

Our expanded mission, The Wharton Center the Written Word will fill a gap that presently exists among the Berkshire cultural not-for-profits. We are taking down “the velvet ropes”, and plan to put the house to work, as was intended by Wharton.

“The Mount Salutes French Design” show house set next summer (2010) will be a blockbuster, featuring many of the rising stars of French design, as well as a few of the established “lions”. During that period, not only will The Mount also host other cultural events celebrating France and Franco-American themes, but we also hope that our fellow Berkshire cultural not-for-profits will follow suit and stage music, dance, plays and art exhibitions featuring similar themes.

Just last Monday, I attended a breakfast at the UN at which Hillary Clinton was honored with the Eleanor Roosevelt “Following in Her Footsteps” Award by Save America’s Treasures. Mrs. Clinton was thrilled when I told her of our breakthrough. As you may know, she was responsible for founding Save America’s Treasures when she was First Lady and, during that time, The Mount was the recipient of the largest grant ever given by Save America’s Treasures, $2.9 million. Mrs. Clinton visited The Mount to commemorate that grant and the restoration program, and The Mount means a lot to her.

The Mount is more than an important house from an architectural and horticultural perspective; it stands as a leading symbol of the achievements of women writers and of women generally.

With kind regards,

Gordon Travers, Chairman of the Board