Meet Robert Clark: President & CEO of Historic Annapolis
If you’ve ever been to Annapolis, you know of its bustling boutiques, waterfront views, and of course, its history. What you may not know is just how Annapolis has been able to preserve and maintain its historic charm since its establishment in the mid-1600s. One of the major reasons visitors still enjoy the city as it’s been for centuries is the dedication and hard work of organizations like Historic Annapolis. They’re credited with dubbing Annapolis ” A Museum Without Walls” – a statement that’s made abundantly clear with a simple stroll through the city’s brick streets. It’s also a reality they’ve had a leading role in creating.
We at Historian Annapolis had a chance to sit down with President and CEO, Robert Clark, to discuss the organization, its vision, the history and preservation of Annapolis, and his deep love for preserving our wonderful town.
What brought you to Annapolis? How did you end up in your current role at Historic Annapolis?
I’m a sixth-generation Marylander. My ancestors landed here in the 1700s from Cork, Ireland to work for Charles Carroll (one of signers of the Declaration of Independence). So, my interest in the city and the area’s history is natural. My career on Wall Street, which spanned almost 5 decades, took me in and out of Annapolis many times. I knew I’d eventually end up here for good.
When I retired in March of 2010, I was invited to join the Historic Annapolis board and became involved with the development committee – which I enjoyed very much – before being asked in 2012 to serve as the acting president.
I am a for-profit guy that’s now in a nonprofit field, and while those are very different concepts, there were many practices I could bring to propel Historic Annapolis’ mission at the time.
What’s Historic Annapolis’ vision for the future?
One of the first things we were able to do was figuring out the question of what the organization’s relevance was. Why Historic Annapolis and why now? We needed to decide what we wanted Historic Annapolis to be, and figure out how to make it happen. So, we sat down and wrote up a strategic plan, utilized focus groups, asked the American Association of Museums to conduct a community assessment.
That led to the answer of drawing a new strategic plan to protect and preserve this beautiful town. Improving the decision making process by including a wider range of people with a focus toward the city’s future as a whole seemed to be the long-term goal of all our efforts.
Juggling a town’s preservation and its potential for economic growth can be a challenge. How does Historic Annapolis address this issue?
In short, our vision is not only to preserve the city, but to work with community leaders and business owners to make it an unbelievable destination for residents and visitors. We want to be a major part of the planning for the future of the city. Instead of going to a big mall or shopping plaza, people come to Annapolis for the small boutique shops. A major part of this is because of the historic atmosphere of the city.
The future for our downtown community is very bright. The many small shops, restaurants, businesses, things to do, and the historic draw all play a part in the success of one another. A number of the properties we manage are rented out to various business owners in town like Capital Teas (77 Main Street) or Alpaca International (206 Main Street). While visitors are here enjoying all the great businesses, they’re also taking a step back in history everywhere they go. Taking the steps to ensure the city’s preservation is key to the success of maintaining a more unified business community.
Why are people attracted to Annapolis?
A quick history lesson: It’s said that preservation’s best friend is poverty. After the Revolutionary War, Baltimore was booming as a far superior port than Annapolis. So, everyone left Annapolis for Baltimore, and the town fell into decay until the USNA was established just before the Civil War. Being Maryland’s Capital and having the USNA were both economic engines that essentially saved the city from mass development or demolition. Since Baltimore was booming, no one bothered to change or build anything in Annapolis. What you’re left with is a city that’s been preserved for centuries. What’s grown from there has been independent businesses resulting in the small town feel we have here.
Couple the preservation and historical aspects with the shopping, dining, the Naval Academy, and maritime culture and it’s easy to see why people want to visit.
How can visitors interact with Historic Annapolis?
We live in a state that is very kind to preservation. We oversee a dozen buildings – all but one of which are owned by the state – which we are entrusted with maintaining, researching, and presenting to visitors. We’re very proud of that assignment and role, and very respectful of the properties. Through tours, events, lectures, and other forms of engagement visitors can experience all we have to offer.
Our exhibits and tours are a major way in which visitors enjoy what we do and experience the city’s preservation efforts firsthand: The William Paca House & Garden, the James Brice House, the Historic Annapolis Museum, the Waterfront Warehouse, the Hogshead. There’s also a project we’re working on called the History of Annapolis in 99 Object which will be in seven sites across the city showcasing historically significant items that speak directly to the importance of Annapolis’ history. It’ll be a permanent exhibit with rotating items on show, which we’re extremely excited about.
Visit Historic Annapolis online for more information.
Photos courtesy of Historic Annapolis and Visit Annapolis