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A conversation with Jim Remar

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, August 5, 2012, at 7:51 a.m.

Jim Remar, president and chief operating officer of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, is in his second stint at the Hutchinson museum.

A Hutchinson native, Remar rejoined the Cosmosphere in June after a four-year hiatus working in a for-profit business environment.

The insight into traditional business and a corporate environment was important, Remar said.

“In many ways, a museum needs to be run like a traditional business,” he said. “You need to run it in a manner that’s going to allow you to make money, … be efficient and provide the best service and product available.”

At the Cosmosphere, Remar, 40, has oversight of all operational aspects, including SpaceWorks, the organization’s restoration and fabrication division.

Remar began his career in museums after falling in love with history in college.

He wanted to work in a profession that utilized that interest, but he didn’t want to teach.

So he looked toward the field of museums and took internships with the Kansas Historical Society and the Truman Library.

After completing graduate work, Remar worked as executive director of the Mifflinburg Buggy Museum in Mifflinburg, Pa.

In 2000, he joined the Kansas Cosmosphere as curator, became director of collections, exhibits and buildings, then became vice president of museum operations and senior vice president.

In 2008, he joined Gregory Inc., a distributor of graphics supplies and equipment and wholesale manufacturer of large format graphics.

He joined the Cosmosphere for a second time in June.

Remar is married and has two boys, Connor, 13, and Evan, 9.

He holds bachelor’s degrees in history and political science from Washburn University and a master’s in museum studies from the University of Nebraska.

Remar also has served as editor and consultant for several museum and space-related print publications.

To further your career, you wanted to gain experience in a business setting. How did that help you?

It allowed me to cut my teeth on true budgeting, finance, costing, analysis, all the things that are extremely important but one may not have the opportunity to learn in a museum setting.

What are your goals for the Kansas Cosmosphere?

It’s putting together an operation that allows us to be self-sustaining. We rely heavily on contributions and sales tax support. Those are extremely important. I think a goal for us has got to be able to have the necessary revenue streams to where year in and year out we can sustain and support our operation.

The Cosmosphere has 28 full-time and 40 part-time employees. What’s your management style there?

Adaptive. I take pride in the fact that I understand my audience. … (I) adapt and manage the personnel in a way that matches their personality. To me, it’s difficult to manage everybody the same. Some people respond differently to different types of management. … I look to ensure I’m pushing the right buttons. My objective is to put my managers in a position where they will be able to succeed.

What’s your biggest challenge at the Cosmosphere?

We’re not where we want it to be. We’ve been running a deficit for the last several years. We are looking at ways to reduce expenses, maximize revenue and grow the revenue.

You’re also embarking on a major fundraising campaign and looking at different marketing campaigns and ways to grow educational programs. How else will you do that?

A priority is continued growth … of our SpaceWorks division. That allows the Cosmosphere to gain revenue from nontraditional means. SpaceWorks does exhibit fabrication and replication for the Cosmosphere, restoration for spacecraft, space artifacts for the Smithsonian and entities around the world, spacecraft replication for groups around the world. It is a specialty.

SpaceWorks is in the middle of an interesting project, and you’ve got more in the works. What’s going on?

We’re in the process of fabricating a replica of a UFO for a group in Taiwan, Universal Impression, which specializes in traveling exhibits. It isn’t something one would think of as far as a project for replication. … We’ve got four or five very exciting potential projects out there that should hit the later part of this year or early next year. Once one of those dominoes falls, it’s only a matter of time before we can gain some momentum and grow that division.

Can you tell us about any of the potential projects?

One is a large-scale possibility of working with Universal Impression on the development of a new museum over there, an air and space museum. At this point, I’m very optimistic. … It would really put us in the international spotlight, especially given the recent developments in the Chinese space program and the significant role they’re beginning to play in space exploration.

You’re getting ready to update the Imax theater. What are you doing there?

(We’re) going from Imax large-format film to a digital projection system. (It will be shut down from early September to early October for the upgrade.)

What’s the most fun part of your job?

It’s not knowing what you might be working on from one day to the next. Who would have ever thought we’d be building a UFO for a group in Taipei, Taiwan? It’s the excitement of working on these types of projects.

What’s your favorite exhibit?

The Mollett Early Space Flight Gallery. It describes the early manned space flight programs both in the Soviet Union and the United States.

What’s next for the museum?

At some point in the future, we will have a gallery devoted to private and commercial space exploration. I think private industry is going to take the lead in getting the U.S. back into space again. I think the Cosmosphere will take a lead in educating and exhibiting the importance of that.

What is something few people know about you?

I have an affinity for the history of the mob. I love mob history. I’m a history buff by nature. I took to the history of the Mafia.

Contact Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com.

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