Turtle Bay – the Evil Empire, Really?


Redding City Manager Kurt Starman has been having conversations about how to cut an additional $5 million from the city’s budget.

According to a story in last week’s Record Searchlight, one such discussion reportedly involved Turtle Bay CEO (and former city manager) Mike Warren and former Turtle Bay CEO Judy Salter.

The idea of closing of the Redding Convention Center and diverting some of the money saved to Turtle Bay Exploration Park was discussed.

That got ’em going on redding.com. The venom came shooting through the screen. The comments attacked Warren, attacked Turtle Bay, attacked the McConnell Foundation, attacked Salter, the Sundial Bridge. They left no stone unturned.

“Cut out TB (Turtle Bay) and CUT OUT WARREN” — wrote 3343.

“If Turtle Bay is so successful, why does it need a subsidy? Turtle Bay is the gift that keeps on taking.” – wrote veph.

“I hear the folks in Redding are finally getting sick and tired of the Turtle Bay’s greed and the McConnell foundation part in all this.” — wrote countrylady.

There were dozens more.

Angry, snide, anonymous comments on websites are rapidly becoming my least favorite thing in life. I’ll address them in a minute.

First, the fact that an option for closing the Redding Convention Center is even on the table speaks volumes for how bad the current recession is. I assume most of us wouldn’t want to lose the convention center OR Turtle Bay. The convention center is our hub for too many big events. Ideally, we need a new, bigger, more state-of-the-art convention center. But it seems non-negotiable to lose what we have.

But this also provides a window for something I’ve wondered about for quite some time. I’ve never fully understood the angst, mistrust and hostility that some around here harbor against Turtle Bay and the McConnell Foundation.

Turtle Bay grew out of the Redding Museum of Art and History and the Carter House Natural Science Museum. The idea was to combine those two institutions, expand and enhance the Redding arboretum, and develop a museum that highlighted and honored the area’s logging history.

Turtle Bay tells the story of our natural and socioeconomic history. It keepsakes incredible artifacts (many from this area) in its permanent collection. It hosts unique homegrown exhibitions and major touring exhibitions (that you’d otherwise have to travel to a big city to see).

The Sundial Bridge (funded mostly by the McConnell Foundation) connected Turtle Bay’s south campus to its Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. The bridge has become a nice focal point for our community to gather, walk, ride bikes, observe the river and enjoy the beautiful setting we live in. Most people love it, but a few people still hold disdain for it. They wanted barrels and wooden planks and not something designed by the world’s leading architect.

They want to tell a philanthropic organization how to spend its money and where it can go. I guess they don’t dig museums and arty things.

A commenter on redding.com said Redding wouldn’t miss Turtle Bay at all. Really? Tell that to the 14,000 students who tour through the park each year. Tell that to the preschooler who pressed his face against the glass where the salamander was and said, “His nose is touching my nose.”

I’ve seen artifacts from the Titanic, marveled at works by Pollock and Willem de Kooning, watched a sturgeon swimming next to a salmon and steelhead, contemplated the lives of the native peoples who have lived in this are for centuries. I’ve learned something new every time I’ve gone there.

The park attracts about 140,000 people a year, including an estimated 30 to 40 percent from outside Shasta County. It employs more than 40 people, including jobs for people who are plant, animal and art experts. It disperses thousands of dollars each year into the local economy on things like print jobs and advertising.

It’s also important to remember that no big cultural institution survives on its gate alone. The major museums in large cities depend on foundations, grants and private donations. Without the McConnell Foundation we wouldn’t have Turtle Bay or the Sundial Bridge.

All that said, is Turtle Bay perfect? No. Is it deeply important to everyone around here? No again.

But it’s one important shade for what makes a city diverse and attractive to outside businesses that might consider moving here. If we start ditching our cultural institutions the moment hard times hit, how do we define ourselves? By Super Wal-Mart?

I do believe the park needs to work harder at being completely inclusive to this community. Opening the botanical gardens to everyone for free was a good step. Residents should feel like they’re in partnership with the park. The more independently sustainable it can be financially, the easier its relationship will be here. That requires finding out what area residents want and providing it for them. They’re the core.

People view Mike Warren’s pitch to Starman as greedy. He was looking for a revenue stream for the institution he works for. Perhaps he believes in the mission of Turtle Bay. How many of Kent Dagg’s radical 10 ideas were pluses for the building industry? I think the government should fund my struggling journalism career. We tend to pitch for ourselves.

Now, as for how much credence to give online commenters. As ugly as it gets, they do represent a segment of this community.

But I tell you, I typically feel bewildered, nauseous and angry after reading comments on redding.com (and a few recently on this site). The discourse often gives me a headache and a soul ache.

Were I in control, I’d make people sign their own names to their comments and get off the snide, I’m-right-and-you-suck train. The ease and anonymity allows them to fire away (although Doni’s warnings certainly make me want to play nice).

It’s tough times right now. It’s tough on museums all across our country . It’s tough on everyone. Maybe this period will be documented in a museum someday. Maybe people will learn about what happened. That is, if there are still museums.

jim-dyar-125Jim Dyar is a journalist and the former arts and entertainment editor for the Record Searchlight’s D.A.T.E. section. Jim is also a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding. E-mail him at jimd.anewscafe@gmail.com

Jim Dyar

is a journalist who focuses on arts, entertainment, music and the outdoors. He is a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding and can be reached at jimd.anewscafe@gmail.com

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