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Longtime National Building Museum executive director Chase Rynd to retire

Farewell For Now

Longtime National Building Museum executive director Chase Rynd to retire

The National Building Museum’s Great Hall was transformed into a sprawling suburban backyard by LAB at Rockwell Group for the 2019 Summer Block Party installation. The museum’s reopening after a series of extensive renovations has been postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. (Timothy Schenck/Courtesy National Building Museum)

Chase Rynd, Hon. ASLA, the executive director of the National Building Museum (NBM) in Washington, D.C., will retire at the end of September 2020, per a statement released by the museum. Even before Rynd’s announced departure, the private, nonprofit NBM, much like other museums and cultural institutions impacted by the coronavirus, had been facing an uncertain future.

Prior to joining the museum as executive director—the fourth person to hold that title—in 2003, Rynd served as executive director of the Frist Art Museum in Nashville (1998) and, before that, executive director of the Tacoma Art Museum (1993). A graduate of Georgetown University and former longtime Seattle resident active in that city’s arts administration scene, Rynd currently sits on a number of boards including the Association of Architecture Organizations, the Downtown DC Business Improvement District, and the Havana Heritage Foundation. Additionally, he serves on committees for St. John’s Lafayette Square and the National Cathedral, is a member of the International Council of Museums and the American Alliance of Museums, and is active in the ACE Mentor Program of America’s National Advisory Board.

“I have been extraordinarily fortunate to have enjoyed such a rewarding career,” said Rynd. “To have served as the Executive Director of the National Building Museum has been a privilege and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It has been an honor to work side-by-side such a talented staff and dedicated Board of Trustees.”

Rynd’s retirement after a fruitful 17-year run comes at a challenging time for the museum. On March 12, the day before the unveiling of a new exhibition featuring the work of architectural photographer Alan Karchmer and a much anticipated grand reopening event after a three-month-long renovation project, the NBM was forced to close its doors to the general public due to the coronavirus pandemic. (People had been allowed to visit the Museum Shop and cafe inside the building during the renovation.)

portrait of chase rynd
Chase Rynd (Courtesy National Building Museum)

Facing uncertainty over when the shutdown in D.C. will end and what the post-shutdown reality will be for large gatherings, the museum has canceled all events and programming into early fall. This year’s Shakespeare-themed edition of the Summer Block Party series has been rescheduled for the summer of 2021. Launched under Rynd’s leadership, the popular summertime exhibition staged in the museum’s soaring Great Hall has featured extravagant interactive installations by Studio Gang, Bjarke Ingels Group, Snarkitecture, Rockwell Group, and others.

Since its closure, the museum, which is housed within the old United States Pension Bureau building, a hulking 1887 Italianate Renaissance Revival gem located opposite Judiciary Square, has released some virtual programming including online-only exhibitions and at-home learning opportunities. Last month, Rynd also launched the National Building Museum Resilience Campaign with the aim to raise $100,000 in much-needed funding to help keep the forty-year-old museum afloat. As Rynd wrote in a letter to supporters, the shuttering of the museum “has been tough for the Museum’s staff, especially after our three-month closure due to building renovations.”

On April 30, the museum announced furloughs of salaried staff members, a move that reduced their working hours by 20 to 80 percent. “The Museum does not know when the furloughs will be lifted, or if further cuts may be needed in the months ahead,” explained a press statement. All hourly employees had been furloughed by the museum earlier in the month.

“It cannot be understated how much the Museum is suffering financially because it remains closed,” said Rynd. “In addition to lost income from visitors, we generate a steady and significant cash flow from Great Hall event rentals. Both of these revenue streams are now dry, and we don’t know when they will start again. These furloughs are a necessary move to reduce our monthly expenditures in order to keep the Museum in the best place possible, financially, when it comes time to reopen our doors. We look forward to that day.”

The furloughs follow a pre-pandemic round of January layoffs at the museum in which eight percent of its staff—seven staff members in total across various departments—was let go. As Rynd explained to DCist in a February article examining the shaky state of the museum, the layoffs were related to a drop in revenue prompted by the renovation-related closure along with “broader financial challenges.”

“We will be doing a little less of this or that,” Rynd said. “It’s not like we’re throwing out all youth programs. We are adjusting our scales.”