Saturday, May 26, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 12

Santa Maria Sun / Canary

The following article was posted on June 12th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 14 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 14

Got any change?

Some famous person or other once said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” I don’t agree. I think the more things change, the more they change. That’s what change is: change.


In my experience, people don’t like change. They like stuff to stay the way it is, the way it has been, because that’s the way to stay comfortable. But change can be a way to shake things up, hopefully for the better.

To that end, I’ve heard that Karen Ortiz is no longer executive director of the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum. Her tenure didn’t last very long, did it? She stepped in right around the start of this year, after Kelly White O’Neill was, well, no longer executive director of the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum. That’s two directors out in half a year.

I don’t know why Karen is no longer in the seat. I don’t know why Kelly departed before that. But if the goal with the first switch was to shake things up, hopefully for the better, it looks like the actual result was stuff staying the same. I mean, why else would the second switch happen? And so soon?

And since I’m on a roll when it comes to asking questions: Why is it so difficult to get a nonprofit devoted to fostering curiosity, wonder, and ingenuity in local children into stable orbit? I’m not asking this rhetorically; I really want the answer.

I know this problem isn’t confined to the museum. Nonprofits of all stripes have a hard time finding footing, even after they’ve found their footing. Local challenges range from financial (look at the struggling, shuttering, then still limping along Santa Maria Philharmonic Society) to leadership (the colossally flubbed Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corporation). And, of course, there can be a mix of issues; problems at the top can lead to problems with the cash.

Even the smoothest-running nonprofits—the ones getting new buildings or expanding services—scrape and scratch and fight for every last penny, wooing and begging and pleading to get the most motivated, helpful, dedicated, and efficient people to fill their leadership teams and director chairs.

And even then stuff can go wrong.

So, really, why is it so difficult?

Karen’s departure from the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum directorship is accompanied by the dissolution of the museum’s board of directors, with an advisory council stepping in now as an acting board. I don’t know much about the back-channel organizing necessary to make such a move, but I hope the upheaval pushes the museum along in a positive direction, like a tsunami of optimism. Can there be a good tidal wave? I’m saying yes.

Of course, a tidal wave tends to leave debris in its wake, and I’m sure that not everyone is happy with the move. I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong. But from my years of eyeing how this community, how local people work, I’d put good money on there being a person or two upset in the aftermath. First Kelly, and then Karen. They wouldn’t have landed their respective directorships if someone in a place of power or influence hadn’t thought they had something to offer in the first place. And they wouldn’t be leaving if someone in the current place of power or influence didn’t think it was working out the way everybody—or some of them, at least—hoped it would.

If I sound like I’m picking at pecking at people trying—not just trying, but struggling—to make this community a better place, then I’m not doing a good job making my point. I sincerely hope that this next move for the museum is a great move for the museum. I’ve flown past the building many a time and have seen countless kids loving the heck out of that place. These are kids who are being active, who are engaging all of their senses, who are making leaps and bounds into the realms of discovery. As opposed to sitting passively, glassy eyed, while the latest product-placement show-game-hybrid blasts across the TV.

Those kids deserve the best they can get. And I hope that that best is marked by a rising above whatever issues have led to the departure of two executive directors in half a year. Here’s to a future of bright discovery. I know we can achieve something great.  

The Canary believes that children are our future. We should teach them well and … well, you’ve heard the song. Send comments to

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