Dearborn Historical Museum: We're Going to Need Help to Keep Our Doors Open
With city funds on the wane and no professional staff, the Dearborn Historical Museum is looking for ways to thrive in uncertain times.
At the Dearborn Historical Museum's two buildings in west downtown, the city’s rich history is on display.
But keeping priceless artifacts, documents and other items that explain and define Dearborn’s history is becoming increasingly difficult in the face of the loss of city funds resulting from a long recession and budget concerns, explained volunteer curator Jack Tate at a recent meeting organized by the League of Women Voters of Dearborn-Dearborn Heights.
“We’re going to need everyone in this room," Tate said to attendees, "and more help from everyone to keep the museum’s doors open, and to make sure we get everything done that we need to do."
“All cities are facing problems because of the economy; Dearborn is no different,” he added. “But we have one of the best local historical museums in the area.”
According to estimates by the Museum Guild of Dearborn, those interested in maintaining Dearborn’s historical legacy will need to raise about $125,000 annually to keep the doors of the museum's three buildings open to the public.
“The city is going to cover our legacy costs, but we need to get as close to that numbers a possible by our own efforts,” said Tate.
Also, there are other issues the museum is facing, including where to store its growing archives and get rid of duplicate items, and how to move forward with a plan to digitize all archival information and place it online for interested residents and researchers.
The museum has lost its full-time curator and two part time workers due to budget cuts for fiscal year 2012-13, and two additional part-time workers resigned in protest because of the layoffs. Two months ago, Mayor Jack O’Reilly asked Tate to take over as an acting curator, and at least one former employee has returned on a volunteer basis.
Tate said going forward, an army of volunteers will be needed to handle what was once completed by full-time staff.
“We need someone to update and maintain our databases, and to use Past Perfect, which is a computer program used at historical museums,” he said. “We’re also going to need someone to write grants for us so we can get the funds we need to take care of several different things we need to do.”
Some of the tasks that need to be done are not glamorous.
“We could use some people to come in here and dust and sweep the floor,” he added.
Generally, the historical society and the guild will focus on fundraising; Tate will focus on the inner workings of the museums and its day-to-day needs.
Earlier this year, discussions began about moving the city’s substantial historical archives, which are located on the second floor of the McFadden-Ross House, to the Henry Ford Centennial Library. According to Tate, library officials said that there was not enough room or staff to accommodate the items, but talks are ongoing.
Nonetheless, because of the size of the city’s archives, it may be necessary to pare down duplicate items, such as yearbooks.
“We found out that we have seven copies of the same yearbook,” he noted.
But duplicate items will need to be assessed, logged and tracked by volunteers because they are city property that should be sent to other interested parties or historical societies, said Tate.
“Nothing will leave that hasn’t been appropriately handled,” he said.
Currently, the archives are bring assessed by expert archivists to help determine how to handle the archives, he added.
Digitizing thousands of historical documents is also another task that will need to be tackled, Tate said.
“We’re going to need volunteers to do that,” he said. “That is what historical museums are doing today.”