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Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center
Posted: Friday, November 30, 2012
Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center is a program of the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation. The Stark Cultural Venues which include Shangri La, the W.H. Stark House, Stark Museum of Art, Frances Ann Lutcher Theater for the Performing Arts, provide the Orange, Texas community and Southeast Texas region with outstanding resources for the study and enjoyment of the arts, history, culture, science and nature.
In 1937, inspired by the utopian novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton, Orange, Texas philanthropist H.J. Lutcher Stark began to carve out of his acreage along Adams Bayou his own vision of Hilton’s magical realm, Shangri-La. Lutcher Stark opened his extraordinary gardens to the public in 1946. Thousands of visitors made their way to Orange to explore Shangri La’s 252 acres including the famous azalea gardens and cypress and tupelo swamps. In 1958 a massive freak snow storm stretching from Texas up the east coast destroyed much of the Gardens and they remained closed for almost 50 years.
Now known as Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, the site was (re)opened to the public in March, 2008, presenting a unique combination of formal gardens and natural environment, including in addition to the restored Botanical Gardens, the Orientation Center, Exhibit Hall, Discovery Theater, Classroom Greenhouse, interactive Children’s Garden, Water Demonstration Garden, a Café and Garden Store. The ecosystem of Shangri La has been recognized for its uniqueness – an undeveloped cypress tupelo swamp in the middle of an urban area.
The Botanical Gardens restored to the grounds an historic color garden including 41 varieties of azaleas, one of the glories of the first Shangri La and decimated by the 1958 storm. The Gardens display 300 plant species within five artistic “rooms” and four sculpture gardens. Adjacent to the Gardens is a state-of-the-art bird blind where special cameras provide extraordinary up close views of nesting birds in Shangri La’s Ruby Lake, which is approximately 15 acres and home to more than 5,000 birds annually.
The Nature Discovery Center offers a comprehensive view of the natural southeast Texas landscape, which includes a mixed deciduous forest, a cypress tupelo swamp and Ruby Lake. The hands-on exhibit explains Shangri La’s wetland ecosystems. First along boardwalks and then onboard a boat, visitors are guided by a Bayou Guide and docents to explore the Gardens’ ecosystem.
An extraordinary commitment to educational programming is at the heart of Shangri La’s mission and engages thousands of children and adults every year. Shangri La’s educational distinction has been recognized by many awards, including the 2012 Texas Environmental Excellence Award in the category of Education.
One of the goals for the restored Shangri La was to achieve LEED certification, which it did in 2008, receiving the U.S Green Building Council’s Platinum certification for new construction. The American Institute of Architects selected Shangri La as one of the “Top Ten Green Projects in the World.”
Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center operates under the auspices of the Stark Foundation with an operating budget of $5,700,000. Capital expenditures are just over $1,200,000. Staff includes 28 full-time employees and 21 part-time. There are 190 active volunteers. The membership program has attracted over 700 families and individuals.
The Managing Director of Shangri La Botanical Gardens reports to the President of the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation and works closely with the Foundation’s Chief Financial Officer, General Counsel, Human Resources Manager, Marketing Manager and Chief Properties Officer.
The Managing Director leads the operation and oversees the administrative, educational and horticultural staff of the Gardens. Reporting to the Managing Director are Director of Horticulture, Environmental Education Coordinator, Volunteer/Tour Coordinator, Admissions, and Administrative Assistant.
Primary responsibilities include working closely with the Stark Foundation President to set the vision and multi-year strategies necessary for measureable and successful implementation of Shangri La’s mission. She/he will set annual goals and objectives to meet clearly articulated expectations; provide program and administrative management and direct staff in the implementation of these plans.
The new Managing Director’s immediate priorities will be learning the Foundation’s and Shangri La’s mission, culture, operations and natural resources. She/he will also gain an understanding of the Botanical Gardens’ finances, collections, educational and other programs and become familiar with the professional staff and volunteers. After which, she/he will provide to the President appropriate recommendations for organizational enhancements. The Managing Director will also take the time to develop collegial working relationships with the Managing Directors and staffs of the other Stark Cultural Venues, and with community and business leaders and public officials.
- Provide the vision, leadership and strategic direction to fulfill Shangri La’s mission and ensure its long-term viability and financial stability.
- Provide active and diligent financial management and operational stewardship; work with Stark Foundation staff in areas of finance, legal/compliance, maintenance, retail, marketing and membership.
- In unison with staff, continue to create rich programming that will attract an expanded and diverse public for educational, horticultural, environmental and recreational events.
- Together with the Stark Cultural Venues Marketing Manager and Membership Coordinator, develop creative and innovative marketing of Shangri La as a unique botanical and environmental education destination.
- Develop membership benefits and opportunities for Stark Cultural Venue members. Shangri La Gardens membership will be encompassed and expanded as part of Stark Cultural Venues membership beginning January 2013.
- Provide leadership in developing the annual business plan with stated goals, objectives and budget; manage the budget over the course of the year; carry out approved plans and policies authorized by the President of the Stark Foundation.
- Ensure that staff and programs are provided with appropriate oversight and support systems to accomplish their annual goals; allocate and supervise resources for greater program effectiveness and efficiency.
- Ensure horticultural design, planning and implementation remains consistent with original design intent.
- Ensure that the overall organizational structure is appropriate to the mission of the organization.
- Develop and support the capabilities of staff members and volunteers, enhancing exceptional ability and maintaining accountability; encourage active and broad participation by volunteers in all areas of the organization’s activities.
- Serve as spokesperson and advocate for Shangri La Botanical Gardens and the Stark Cultural Venues and be a visible and involved member of the greater Orange community.
- Initiate, develop and maintain productive and mutually beneficial collaborative relationship with the Managing Directors and staff of the other Stark Cultural Venues.
- Represent Shangri La in the local community and among peer institutions in a professional manner that promotes Shangri La’s positive image.
- Cultivate current and prospective corporate support and develop new sources of funding by local industry and the business community through strategic partnerships and project sponsorship.
- Establish sound working relationships and cooperative arrangements with appropriate educational and community organizations.
In the performance of these responsibilities, the Managing Director shall:
- Have or acquire a working knowledge of the unique eco-system of Orange County and Shangri La.
- Provide a high level of energy and professionalism and infuse the staff and volunteers with enthusiasm and drive to advance the mission of Shangri La.
- Maintain and encourage open communication with Shangri La staff and Foundation employees and foster a productive, efficient, and team-oriented working environment.
- Develop and maintain relationships nationally to further Shangri La’s mission, visibility and leadership role.
- Recommend new program initiatives to fulfill the organization’s goals and once approved, work with staff responsible for seeing them through to fruition.
- Oversee staff training and professional development and provide annual performance appraisals of all senior staff.
- Recommend and welcome visiting lecturers and guest speakers.
- Maintain frequent communication with the Stark Foundation President on Shangri La’s activities and seek guidance on particularly complex issues affecting the organization.
Discharge her/his duties with a high degree of professionalism and energy and require the same from the staff.
The successful candidate must be a strong leader with 10 years of progressively senior level experience, preferably gained with a botanical garden and/or nature/ environmental center or other related non-profit cultural or educational institution. A graduate degree in botanical, ecological or environmental science or a related discipline is required. In addition, the following experience and qualifications are sought:
- Sound business judgment and demonstrated people and financial management experience.
- Belief in Shangri La’s mission; passion for the role of gardens and for living green and environmental education in today’s world, including nationally and locally.
- Skill and experience with day to day operations and demonstrated success in long term planning and implementation; ability to attract, hire and develop excellent staff.
- Demonstrated written and verbal communication skills across all levels of an organization and with the public at large; ability to work collaboratively with staff, volunteers, patrons and community leaders to develop and propel forward the vision for Shangri La’s growth.
- Proven ability to develop financial support from diverse sources.
Ability to interface effectively with members of relevant professional associations and represent Shangri La at professional meetings and conferences.
Shangri La is seeking a dynamic, experienced, forward-looking Managing Director. The successful candidate will:
- Be committed to and enthusiastic about the Stark Cultural Venues’ missions in general and Shangri La and its possibilities in particular.
- Be a highly motivated self-starter with a hands-on work ethic.
- Have a passion for the job needing to be done.
- Have a positive, can-do attitude and a sense of humor.
The town of Orange is the county seat of Orange County, located in the Gulf Coast region of Southeast Texas. Orange is about 35 miles from Lake Charles, Louisiana and 110 miles from Houston. The town has a population of 18,000 and is a regional cultural center as the home of the highly regarded Stark Cultural Venues. Beaumont, with a population of 118,000, is 25 miles from Orange.
Orange is in the Sabine River basin which flows from the Gulf of Mexico. It is a plains area with a unique ecosystem and a rich 12,000 year history of human habitation beginning with the Clovis culture. The region is known as Texas’s “Golden Triangle” as a result of large-scale oil extraction beginning in the 20th century. Orange is home today to manufacturers like DuPont, Signal International, Firestone and ChevronPhillips. In addition to the petrochemical industry, the area economy includes steel, shipbuilding and paper production.
The city brand is “Small Town Charm, World Class Culture.” In addition to the Stark Cultural Venues, Orange County is home to the Heritage House, the Heritage History Museum, the historic First Presbyterian Church and the Blue Elbow Swamp. The town hosts art and music festivals; a major downtown revitalization plan spurred recovery from serious damage caused by Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Lamar State College, part of the Texas State University system, is located in Orange. Lamar University, also part of the TSU system, is located in nearby Beaumont, Texas. Lamar Institute of Technology is also located in Beaumont.
Cost of living and housing costs in the area are below Texas average. The weather ranges from an average 39 degrees during the winter to a 90 degree average during July, with high precipitation especially during the summer.
Amtrak stops in nearby Beaumont. The closest airports are in Houston and in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Air service to Dallas from Beaumont will begin February 2013.
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