Photography by Lindsey Potter
About a year ago, Rob Steele resigned from a management position in the arts and considered retiring in Central America. But when he got a call from the Historical Society of Martin County (HSMC), he agreed to drive from Delray Beach to Hutchinson Island to meet with the HSMC recruiting committee.
Once he toured the Elliott Museum, he was immediately charmed by its heart and spirit. Central America could wait, he thought.
“I took myself to lunch at Kyle G’s on the island, and it all felt right,” he says. “The conviction that I made the right decision grows stronger every day.”
Now, Steele has anything but retired. He’s currently the president and CEO of HSMC, the umbrella organization of the Elliott Museum and the House of Refuge, with big plans to breathe new life into the properties and Martin County as a whole.
What drew you to the arts?
My career path to becoming the president can be described as a “long and winding road.” I was a banker for the first 13 years of my career, which gave me a decidedly clear understanding of the importance of proper fiscal management in any organization. I owned restaurants for eight years and developed a great sense of the importance of “guest” mentality in achieving superior customer service. Then, I spent 17 whirlwind years serving as the impresario of small and large performing arts venues and discovered just how much I love to make people happy. Somehow this seemingly odd basket of skill works well in a museum setting.
As president, what’s your main focus?
We want to reach into every corner of Martin County and connect with everyone as we provide affordable access to the arts and culture. We also want to live by the notion that “beauty is as beauty does” and leverage the 50,000 square feet of air-conditioned space on our two singularly unique campuses to touch the hearts and uplift the spirits of as many people as we possibly can.
What’s something you want the public to know about the Elliott Museum?
If I could magically and painlessly implant a memory in the minds of everyone who lives in Martin County, it would be “Keep your eye on the Historical Society of Martin County because you never know what they will be doing next.”
Where can you be found when you are not working?
I love to start the day with a 3-mile walk on the beautiful beach on Hutchinson Island. Historical societies and museums are often characterized as “dry and dusty,” which is certainly not the case for us.
What does the future look like for the museum?
A new game is afoot at the HSMC, and its beloved museums. The excitement, enthusiasm, energy, and yes, love that is in the air when you cross our thresholds is indeed palpable. The great work of our staff, volunteers and board of directors is generating the all-important momentum that will transform this institution into the full expression of the bold mission that was envisioned by the women of the Soroptimist Club when they took on these challenges nearly 60 years ago.