Officials with the United States Marshals Museum (USMM) in Fort Smith announced Tuesday (Aug. 9) that Ben Johnson of Iowa had been hired as president and CEO, effective Aug. 22.
“In conducting a national search, we were looking for a new CEO with a proven track record of achievement in museum operations. And that is exactly what we are getting with Ben Johnson,” Doug Babb, USMM board chairperson, said in a statement. “Over his 20-year museum career, Ben has served in nearly every capacity within the museum industry. He understands every aspect of museum operations because he has performed nearly every position.”
Patrick Weeks, who faces two felony charges of aggravated assault with a firearm, resigned as president and CEO of the U.S. Marshals Museum on March 4. Babb said the board in April hired Boston-based executive search firm Lindauer, which specializes in working with nonprofit organizations. Babb said that the Lindauer firm recruited USMM Foundation President and Chief Development Officer Anthony Meyer earlier this year.
Johnson commented on his new role and said he was excited and humbled to be hired, “honoring the brave men and women who have served our nation since 1789.”
“As sacred ground, Fort Smith is the ideal location for this world-class museum, and I look forward to sharing it with the world,” he said.
Johnson is the vice president of museum experience at the Putnam Museum and Science Center in Davenport, Iowa. Putnam is a 120,000-square-foot museum with around 120,000 visitors a year. Johnson is responsible for all aspects of museum operations.
Before Putnam, Johnson was the executive director of The Glenn H. Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, N.Y. At Curtiss, he grew annual visits and revenues over a successful five-year stint as the museum leader, according to Tuesday’s news release.
“Ben brings us the expertise we need to complete the fabrication and installation of the Museum Experience, hire and train our museum staff and develop a business plan for an operating museum,” Babb said in the release. “We expect that with a new CEO with a track record of success in museum operations, we can accelerate our fundraising and open to the public next year.”
The museum signed a contract in September 2021 with Thinkwell to build the museum exhibits. Babb said the museum is now working with “various vendors” to create the experiences.
“They are working on 41 immersive experiences with lots of parts,” Babb said in July. “We hope those will be completed by February or March and installed by late spring of 2023.”
The museum’s website states that the immersive exhibits will employ interactive storytelling of tales from colonial days, to the western frontier, to challenges of a Marshal’s life today.
The museum foundation has raised the $7.8 million needed to complete that construction, Babb said late last year. Museum officials announced in early November that the Fort Smith-based museum had received an influx of contributions following a $5 million matching gift announced over the summer.
“We acknowledged going into this that it would take about $50 million to build the museum and the experiences,” Babb said in July. “We have raised around $45 million. We are working on the $5 million needed to complete everything.”
Construction of the approximately 53,000-square-feet U.S. Marshals Museum was completed — except for exhibits — in early 2020. The facility is on the Arkansas River near downtown Fort Smith. In January 2007, the U.S. Marshals Service selected Fort Smith as the site for the national museum. A ceremonial groundbreaking was held in September 2015, and museum officials initially hoped to have the facility open by late 2017.
Weeks, hired in June 2014 as museum president and CEO, succeeded Jim Dunn, who had served as museum president since 2009. Weeks was arrested on Dec. 21, 2021, on two felony charges of aggravated assault with a firearm. He pleaded innocent to two counts of aggravated assault at his arraignment on Dec. 30 and was placed on administrative leave on Dec. 23 by the museum board. Weeks’ case was filed directly from Fort Smith District Court to Sebastian County Circuit Court before a preliminary hearing on Feb. 15.
A jury trial under Sebastian County Circuit Judge Stephen Tabor, initially set for July 5, was continued to the week of Oct. 3 by the defense, said Sebastian County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Shue. Weeks’ attorney, Rex Chronister, filed the motion for continuance on June 3, stating he would be out of the state on July 5.
According to a Fort Smith Police Department report, Weeks refused to allow two OG&E workers into his yard to work on streetlights on Dec. 21. The workers called the police when Weeks followed them with a pistol and pointed the pistol at them. Weeks was arrested without incident following the encounter and was released on a $3,000 bond from the Sebastian County Adult Detention Center on Dec. 21. Conviction of a Class D felony is punishable by up to six years in prison, in addition to a fine not to exceed $10,000.