Q & A with Robert Overton, Jr.
Executive Director, UWF Historic Trust
What is the mission and key purpose of UWF Historic Trust and how was the organization started?
Our mission is to collect, preserve, interpret, and share the history of Northwest Florida.
Our story began with a group of local citizens in the 1960’s. Using the St. Augustine Preservation and Restoration Commission as a model, local community leaders lobbied for the establishment of a state-supported oversight board. The passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 provided the momentum for the Florida legislation that resulted in the establishment of the Pensacola Historic Preservation and Restoration Commission in 1967. It was charged with two broad areas of responsibility: acquiring and preserving local historic monuments, sites, buildings, and artifacts for the benefit, education, and enjoyment of the public; and to research and disseminate written, audio, and visual information to further the protection and preservation of historic sites, properties,and human stories pertaining to Florida history.
In 1970, the Pensacola Historic Preservation and Restoration Commission became the Historic Pensacola Preservation Board under the Florida Department of State. Over the years, all of the preservation boards except Pensacola were repealed by 1997, with the Historic Pensacola Preservation Board being repealed in 2001. At that time, the preservation board became West Florida Historic Preservation, Inc. (WFHPI), a direct support organization of the University of West Florida (UWF), and the collections and buildings were transferred to the university. In 2009, the Pensacola Historical Society, a separate non-profit, merged with WFHPI and its staff and assets became part of WFHPI. In 2013, the name of the West Florida Historic Preservation, Inc., was changed to the UWF Historic Trust (UWFHT) to emphasize that the sites, structures, collections, programs, and exhibits of the organization represent a public Trust.
How did you become involved with UWF Historic Trust?
I began working for the organization in 2002 when I was hired as one of the curators. I oversaw the museum collection and archives. I also gave tours and helped install exhibits. In 2006 I accepted the position of Associate Director,a position that allowed me to oversee all of our collection and education efforts. I washired as the Executive Director in 2015.
What properties fall under the Trust’s management?
Currently, the UWF Historic Trust operates the Pensacola Museum of Art (PMA) and the Historic Pensacola sites of the University of West Florida, which includes 29 properties in downtown Historic Pensacola as well as the Arcadia Mill Archaeological Site in Milton.
What impact has UWF Historic Trust had on the Pensacola community in the last year?
According to Visit Pensacola statistics, Escambia County welcomed more than 1.6 million visitors in 2018 for an average stay of seven days, with 40 percent of those being first-time visitors. On average, each person spent $165 per day. The average total spent per party (on average 2.8 people) was $1,800. Last year our museums brought in over 188,000 people of which 58% resided outside the greater Pensacola area. According to Visit Pensacola’s most recent trend reporting, an average of 40% of visitors book lodging, which equates to an estimated 75,200 of our visitors staying in area hotels. These visitors spent money in the local area supporting our local economy
What is the relationship with University of West Florida?
When the Historic Pensacola Preservation Board was transferred from the Florida Department of State to UWF in 2001 the organization became a Direct Support Organization to the University. Being a DSO means that while UWFHT is considered part of the university and cooperates with the university in the education and training of students, the agency also has major responsibilities outside the realm of university functions – including the operation of public museums, tourist destinations, and programs not specifically oriented for university students.
UWFHT has dual governance. At UWF, it is part of the Division of University Advancement, with the UWFHT Executive Director reporting directly to the Vice President of University Advancement. For its public museum functions and to provide funding for operations not covered by university funding, UWFHT is also a not-for-profit organization governed by a Board of Directors, a volunteer group of history-minded individuals appointed by the UWF President.
What are some of the greatest challenges your organization faces?
Our biggest challenge is staying relevant. Museums have to grow and change with the community. People visit museums to learn and expand their knowledge of both what they know and what they don’t know. Each person is inspired by different things and we constantly have to adapt to our changing world while still remaining true to our mission.
What is the most rewarding part of your involvement with the organization?
The people. Everything that we do is focused on engaging people. I also get to work with some amazingly talented individuals who inspire me every day.
Describe a situation working with the organization that really stood out and touched you.
In 2015 we completed an interpretive master plan for our museum complex. The board, staff, and community came together to imagine what we could be. The result was a plan to make improvements to the nine acres that we manage in downtown Pensacola. When we shared our plan with the community they were excited and supportive and showed this support by stepping up and providing funds for these improvements. This included funding for the lightscape at the T.T.Wentworth Museum, creating museum plaza, developing an early learning playground, a public storytelling circle, and an outdoor education pavilion/stage. After these things were created the community has made use of them in ways that we didn’t even imagine.
Is UWF Historic Trust involved in any upcoming events?
We will continue to make improvements to our site, regularly install new exhibits in our museums, and work with the community to celebrate the 200thanniversary of the creation of Escambia county.
What does the future of your organization look like?
Continued growth, change,and engagement of all parts of the community.
What is one thing you want readers to know about UWF Historic Trust?
Even if you have visited in the past,you should visit again because we are always changing. You can still see many of the things that you saw before but you will also see many new things. We are the community’s museum.
How can someone become involved or donate?
There are many ways to help us fulfil our mission. The easiest way is to become a member. With a membership you help fund what we do while receiving some pretty great benefits such as annual passes to our museums, invitations to special events and exhibit openings,as well as our newsletter which keeps you up to date on what we are doing. You can also support us by volunteering. We have a number of volunteer opportunities that people enjoy. You can be a docent, work with our collection, sell tickets, help with our education program,and any number of rewarding experiences. Information on how to help support us is available on our website: www.historicpensacola.org.