By MIKE CHAIKEN
When Louise DeMars arrived at the New England Carousel Museum, the nonprofit institution was a mere tenant at 95 Riverside Ave. in Bristol.
Under DeMars’ leadership, the museum – which puts the focus on the history of carousels across the globe – finally became master of its domain in 1998 – buying the building it called home.
Over the next 25-plus years, the nonprofit acquired a menagerie of beasts that went round and round on these amusement rides. The institution also expanded its mission, becoming The Bristol Center for Arts & Culture. It established a restoration shop for the carousel pieces, the Museum of Fire History, A Museum of Greek Art and History, and the Glo Sessions Art Gallery.
The nonprofit also established signature events such as its fundraising Mardi Gras party and its Bizarre Bazaar and resurrected the historic Crocodile Club at Lake Compounce (where politicians can talk about anything but politics). The community outreach effort offered a myriad of children’s and family program.
The museum also took over management of the historic carousel in Hartford’s Bushnell Park, overseeing its renovation.
DeMars, who arrived in 1991, became the face of the New England Carousel Museum.
But after a long ride at the carousel museum, DeMars, a 52-year resident of Bristol, announced this month that she was stepping aside. Subsequently, the museum’s Board of Directors on Friday decided to hand the reins over to another familiar face at the museum, Morgan Urgo, who was responsible for many new programs that built upon DeMars’ efforts.
In a press statement, DeMars said, “It is with bittersweet feelings that I tell you that after 28 years I am retiring as the executive director of the New England Carousel Museum.”
“I do not have to tell you that I do so with very mixed feelings but mostly excitement about having some time to enjoy life,” said DeMars.
“Building this museum over the years has been a challenge and a thrill with many accomplishments along the way,” said DeMars. “We have created a wonderful venue that has received national accolades and awards. I step aside with much satisfaction.”
Victoria Biondi, the president of the museum’s board of directors, said in a statement, “The Board said that it is a bittersweet moment in the history of the museum, happy to give Louise a well-deserved break and sad to see her step away from the daily operations. The museum has been incredibly blessed with a stewardship of Louise Lauretano DeMars as its first executive director.”
“The board convinced DeMars to stay with the organization overseeing the Bushnell Park Carousel end of museum operations giving her a more flexible schedule,” said Biondi in the statement. “In this role, her title will be director emeritus. She will continue to oversee the restoration, development and promotion of the Bushnell Park Carousel in addition to daily operations and programming, continuing her involvement with several of the signature events that the museum has initiated under her guidance.”
In announcing Urgo’s promotion to take over for DeMars, Biondi said, “We feel blessed to have someone of Morgan’s talent choose to follow as the next executive director.”
“It’s a huge responsibility to preserve and protect this historic collection and I am so honored and excited to be trusted to steward the next chapter of the Carousel Museum’s story,” said Urgo in an email interview. “I encourage everyone to come check us out and discover what we are all about.”
Urgo had been assistant director of external affairs at the museum since June 2018. Arriving at the museum in 2016, she initially served as the museum manager.
Urgo graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in drawing with a minor in art history from Plymouth State University, Plymouth, N.H. She served four years as a master teaching artist for the Bushnell Center for Performing Arts in Hartford. She then spent several years as coordinator of public programs at the New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, followed by several more years as manager of visitor and volunteer services until 2011. She then became co-founder and director of customer experiences for The Art Truck, LLC out of Glastonbury.
Urgo was recommended for the position by DeMars.
“Over the years,” said DeMars in her letter announcing her retirement, “I have made many good friends and a wealth of wonderful employees and students, who I truly treasure. I wanted to share this moment with you, in advance of the announcement, as a way of thanking you all for your support and help over the years. I could not have done it without your faith in me.”