York man elected to head PA Museum Association

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch

As David Heltzel looks at the industry that he will now help lead, he can’t help but dwell on the unique experience of visiting a museum.

David Heltzel, of Springettsbury Township, is the new president of PA Museums, a Harrisburg-based statewide museum organization.

“In a world of technology, you can see anything in a two-dimensional format, but there is nothing compared to going into a facility and absorbing the message, the beauty, the touch, feel, texture (and) smell — things you can’t duplicate by looking at a computer,” he said.

“To me, there’s no virtual or digital delivery system that can give the same experience,” Heltzel added.

The 61-year-old Springettsbury Township resident was elected president of Harrisburg-based PA Museums in March, becoming the first nonmuseum official to head the industry group.

He will oversee more than 350 institutions and members in the association, according to a news release.

About 37 million people visit member museums each year.

Heltzel is  president and CEO of the business he started 19 years ago, Phoenixx Design Associates LLC, based in Springettsbury Township. The company designs exhibits and displays for museums.

For a while, the bulk of Heltzel’s work was in local television newsrooms, but as the industry consolidated, he started to contract more with museums and became better acquainted with the uniqueness of the industry.

Phoenixx Design Associates has worked with such institutions as the Maryland Science Center, the National Park Service and Johns Hopkins University.

Dave Heltzel's Phoenixx Design Associates have created several sets over the years, including one at the Oil Region Alliance Perry Street Railroad Station in Titusville, PA

“Our portfolio is something we’re very, very proud of,” Heltzel said.

Local entrepreneur: Phoenixx Design Associates was a member of the industry group when it operated under a different name — Pennsylvania Federation of Historical Societies — but Heltzel left the group a few years.

He rejoined after meeting Steve Humphrey at a volunteer event.

Unbeknownst to Heltzel, Humphrey was the president of the federation, and Humphrey asked him why his business was no longer a member.

Heltzel explained his business wasn’t “getting anything out of it,” adding engagement was low between member museums.

They exchanged numbers during their initial meeting, and two days later, Humphrey revealed his title to Heltzel, along with an offer to join the board of the organization.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” Heltzel said.

Now several years after his appointment, Heltzel is the first associate board member to be elected president in the not-for-profit's 122-year history.

Heltzel said he is eager to increase engagement among museums and museum lovers.

“There’s a lot to do during my tenure,” he said of his two-year volunteer term.

Tentative plans include raising PA Museum’s membership to more than 400 institutions and increasing networking engagements between museums. Heltzel also would like to recruit individual members whose funds will go toward preserving small-town museums, which he said are under strain.

Most of the industry group's members are extremely small, Heltzel said. "They’re only open a few days a week because they really can’t afford any more than that.”

Heltzel said he wants to help museums raise money in more innovative ways because of dwindling government support, including recent proposals to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts.

With every new opportunity, Heltzel has the same approach: if you’re curious, go for it. With his new venture representing cultural institutions, Heltzel said he’s ready for it.

“Sometimes when you have an itch, you have to scratch it,” he said.

For more information about PA Museums and how to become a member, visit the organization's website at www.pamuseums.org