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After 16 years at musuems, Carvalho seeks new challenges

Date: 5/4/2010

May 5, 2010.

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- For the cultural history of the city and the area, Joseph Carvalho's retirement from the position of president of the Springfield Museums marks an end of an era.

For Carvalho, though, the decision to leave the job he has had 16 years is the opportunity to pursue both scholarly interests and his love of music.

Holly Smith-Bove was named by the museum board as the new president of the Museums, effective May 1. Smith-Bov joined the Museums as chief financial officer in 2003 and has served as interim president since January of this year. A graduate of Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., she has worked in finance and management for more than 20 years.

During his tenure as president, Carvalho oversaw the separation of the city library system from the museums, worked to see the establishment of the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden and the creation of the new Springfield History Museum.

The decision to leave the position has been long in the making, Carvalho said to Reminder Publications. He has thought about moving on for the past seven years.

He never sought the position, but was offered it after the departure of the previous president.

He admitted that heading up the museums was "not what I had in mind" and prior to the meeting at which he was offered the job, he had thought about seeking a new job.

Carvalho realized the position was "something important to do."

"The more I worked here the more I thought what a special place this is," he said.

Carvalho came late in his childhood to the region. His father, an engineer who set up textile plants, settled in West Springfield when Carvalho was in high school. He soon became intrigued with the city across the river, he recalled.

After earning his bachelor's degree in history from Westfield State College -- he also holds two master's degrees -- Carvalho started working for the then Springfield Library and Museum Association (SLMA) in 1976 as a circulation clerk in the library. His interest in history and in the SLMA's collection of documents and artifacts spurred his development and promotion of the genealogy room in which people could research their ancestors.

"You get involved in the public and you just want to help," he said.

With the popularity of "Roots," he said more and more African-Americans came to the library to research their families and Carvalho began a 20-year effort to broaden the information the SLMA could offer on African-American families.

He compiled much information on African-Americans in Massachusetts in a book published in 1984, a book he is now revising that will be two or three times larger. He reviewed a number of historic documents, newspapers and other sources to create a list of names and other information about African-Americans living here from 1655 to 1855. The new book expands that information through 1900, he explained.

The French-Canadian population was also a focus of his efforts to broaden the information offered by the library.

Carvalho remembered with a smile that when he came to the SLMA, the records were on index cards created on typewriters. He was detailed to begin a conversion process to computerized library records, an effort that extended to the museum's collections. One of the advantages with the computerized records is the different museum curators could see each other's collections enabling them to use a variety of art and artifacts to create an exhibition.

"They can do things other museums can't do," he noted.

At several times during the conversation, Carvalho praised the professionalism of the museum and library staff.

Much time and effort was also spent in updating and renovating the buildings in the Quadrangle, he said. The oldest building in the complex was built in 1839.

Carvalho also had to navigate through hard times when the city was forced to cut the library's budget. Until 2003, the library was operated on behalf on the city by the SLMA, a separate non-profit organization. The SLMA received funds from the city to help maintain the library system and there have been cuts and schedule reductions over the years in reaction to how much the city allocated to the SLMA.

In 2003, the city took control of the library system, but not before a controversial sale of the Mason Square Branch Library building to the Urban League. Carvalho said the mid-year budget cuts from the Romney Administration had shaken local elected leaders and his board. When told the following year had a worse budget outlook, Carvalho looked for ways to keep branch libraries open and his board approved a plan to sell the newly refurbished Mason Square branch to the Urban League that was about to lose its rented quarters. The Urban League pledged to allow part of the building to remain a library.

Today the city is reclaiming the building through eminent domain to restore a full service library to the area. Carvalho said that in retrospect, "I wouldn't have done it . I was forced to do it [by economic conditions]."

"I thought it was a noble partnership," he added.

Although the incident may have created political enemies, Carvalho certainly redeemed himself with some city residents by forging an agreement with Mayor Charles Ryan to allow Springfield residents to visit the museums free of charge, something Carvalho called "a great thing." Although the museums lost some revenue from the move, he said the message the free admission program created was "if nothing else, it's your museum; come here."

Although his career with the library and the museums is a lengthy one and filled with accomplishments, Carvalho's eyes widen a bit when speaking of the new Springfield History Museum. Opened last year, the museum presents the history of the city through artifacts ranging from a Rolls-Royce built in the city to the desk used by abolitionist John Brown when he lived here.

"Not too many cities have a story like Springfield," he said.

The recession made raising the money a challenge for the new museum, Carvalho said, and he is clearly proud of the finished institution. He hopes area students go through the museum to learn about the city's history so they will take pride themselves in where they live.

A Springfield resident himself, Carvalho's retirement doesn't mean he is leaving the city and it doesn't mean he won't be involved with projects close to his heart. Besides the expanded book on African-American genealogy, he is also preparing a book on the life of a Berkshire County resident who served in the Revolutionary Army. The book will be based on the soldier's own memoirs.

He is also performing consulting work for other museums.

A musician for most of his life, Carvalho is part of Eva Cappelli and the Watershops Band. He acts as the band's manager and is a guitarist. Cappelli performs original blues, folk rock and country tunes and the group has an upcoming performance at Northampton's Iron Horse in June. To listen to the group's music, go to

Carvalho said that when he drives past the museums today he knows they are in the hands of "a really good group of people that's doing fine without me."