On the job a little more than a week, Alicia Estrada hasn't settled into her new digs at the Annapolis Maritime Museum. But she has begun evaluating its programs as she looks to the future of the former oyster plant.
"I'm just trying to get my head around everything," said Estrada, the museum's new executive director. She'll get the official schoolchildren's tour of the waterfront museum in coming days, she said.
The museum tells the story of the Chesapeake Bay through exhibits, lectures and entertainment — and, in the process, teaches about the maritime heritage of the Annapolis area.
Now, Estrada said, it's time to take the museum "to a new level." She envisions updating exhibits to make them more interactive and working to enhance the museum's role in the Eastport community. The neighborhood maintains its role as a sailing hub, replete with boating-related businesses.
Estrada has begun an evaluation of the museum's current offerings with an eye toward drawing in more students, raising the small museum's profile and making it a lively place in the community. Her review will be completed in about three months, she said.
"We have a program for sixth-graders, and about 25 percent of our schools take advantage of it," she said. "It is our intention to grow it so that every student comes here. The goal is three times during their school years."
But the museum is not just for kids, she noted. In fact, many of its events are geared toward adults.
"We want to be the place where people will come for a lecture, for a concert. We want it to be a living, breathing museum," Estrada said.
The annual oyster roast and sock-burning, to be held March 23, and the fall beach bash are two popular museum-run events, each drawing hundreds of people to the structure along Back Creek that once housed McNasby Oyster Co., the last of the Annapolis shucking and packing houses.
Estrada, 54, held a series of marketing positions, most recently executive director of the Gettysburg Festival, an annual Pennsylvania event she helped launch in 2008 that will continue this June. She said the festival draws 23,000 attendees over its 10-day run.
She resigned in 2011. The looming loss of substantial state funding for the festival and a change in gubernatorial administrations helped convince her it was time to move on. She returned to her hometown of Annapolis, where her parents still live. Separated from her husband and with her two children in college, she'd become an empty nester.
She turned to consulting work, throwing herself into the annual tug-of-war event between Annapolis and the Maritime Republic of Eastport, the good-natured rivalry that raises funds each year for area charities.
Last fall, when Jeff Holland decided to leave his job at the museum's helm, Estrada sought the position. She began a week and a half ago.
Eric Rubin, chairman of the museum's board of directors, said in a statement that Estrada's energy and experience will serve the museum well as she handles day-to-day operations and oversees long-range plans for the museum.
The museum, which took over the McNasby property in 2001, was devastated by Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003, as most of its back wall gave in to the pounding waves. Holland was credited with tackling the renovation of the property and managing some $1.7 million in grants that funded numerous programs there, including the museum's signature exhibit, "Oysters on the Half Shell."
The operating budget is about $500,000 this year, Estrada said.
Estrada says she wants to take on issues great and small. For instance, she wants to make the museum's property more attractive and inviting as the weather warms up — even if that means dressing it up with colorful flowers and reseeding the lawn.
"I enjoy the diversity of it — that's what drew me to this job," Estrada said.