By JESSICA CRAWFORD • Daily Leader
New leadership has taken over the helm of the Mid-America Air Museum, however, it is a familiar face that visitors will see upon entering the museum to enjoy the displays that have given MAAM nationwide recognition.
MAAM founding director James Bert was named the new executive director on Sept. 14. Although, Bert has been away from Liberal for nearly 20 years, he is excited about his return and proud of how the museum has flourished in his absence.
“I’m thrilled to have been appointed as director of the Mid-America Air Museum, it is great to be back in Liberal and back at the museum,” Bert said. “I look forward to working with the museum staff, volunteers, advisory board and foundation board members in striving to create one of the premier aircraft museums in the nation.
“It is an honor to come back,” he continued. “We are going to do everything we can to maximize the museum and make it a community asset. I so appreciate all of the support and council that I have received from the city staff. I believe only good things are going to happen with the air museum, it is going to strengthen, it is going to grow.”
Since leaving Liberal, Bert has been busy across the midwest serving in a similar capacity at historic museums.
“Bert leaves the Hotel de Paris Museum in Georgetown, Colo., where he has been executive director since 2005,” City Manager Mark Hall noted in a recent press release. “Prior to assuming the Hotel de Paris post, he served as executive director at the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association in Sycamore, Ill., Cuneo Museum and Gardens in Vernon Hills Ill., Strategic Air Command Museum in Bellevue, Neb., and was the founding director of the Mid-America Air Museum here in Liberal.
“Jim brings solid experience and a proven track record in museum operations, exhibitions, public programming, fundraising, and community outreach,” Hall added. “We are delighted to welcome Jim back to Liberal and back to the Mid-America Air Museum, and look forward to working with him to ensure that the museum remains an essential centerpiece of the community.”
During his first tour at MAAM, Bert was instrumental in building the display of aircraft as well as bringing several shows to Liberal that brought visitors from far and wide.
“I was here from 1987 through 1990,” Bert said. “During that time, we expanded the collection from three aircraft to about 83 aircraft. And we had three air shows.
“I worked to arrange what was the first dynamation show,” he explained. “Most folks haven’t heard of that recently. But that was quite the rage at that time. It was animated dinosaurs that were 80 to 90 percent scale. They were very life-like and it appeared that it brought a lot of folks in and the community really liked it.”
Bert expressed his pride in the museum and the growth it has experienced since he has been gone.
“They have added I think 25 more aircraft or so,” he said. “There are some new exhibits, of course, and the museum now has a much greater reputation. People have heard of it and more visitors are coming. So those are some of the really positive things I see. I see that the extraordinary difference that the City of Liberal’s leadership has provided here. It is a stronger, more stable institution now and we are going to build on that. Everyone is anxious to get started and so am I.”
Bert has great plans for MAAM, however, he is currently working on getting in the door.
“I am very excited about being here to get to continue the work of the museum and I have so many good associations from when I was here before,” he said. “Starting a museum from scratch, it was all exciting, and I am looking forward to now with some additional experience and understanding of how to organize museums and do a little more detailed work. I am going to kind of take awhile, make some plans, we are going to work on some grants and see if we can’t do some nice things for the community and get some more tourists in.”
Bert was formally introduced to the city at Tuesday evening’s city commission meeting. Finance director Chris Ford expressed his excitement for the future of MAAM.
“It has been kind of fun for him to see some old faces and renew some of the relationships that he used to have,” Ford said. “He happens to be the founding director of our air museum. He has quite an extensive background. He has some great ideas in store and I am just very excited about what the future will hold.”