Coming out of dire straights in 2012, leadership of the Dearborn Historical Museum are asking Dearborn City Council for five years and some monetary help to make the keeper of Dearborn's history one of the city's greatest assets.
Acting museum Director Jack Tate this month presented the city with the Dearborn Historical Museum’s five-year plan, which was made with the assistance of the Michigan Historical Society.
The plan includes the development of new fundraising programs, resurrection of defunct ones, an audit of the museum’s inventory, and a plan for renovation and reorganization of the museum’s properties.
“It’s an aggressive plan, and I’m going to stick with it,” said Tate, who is retired and currently runs the museum pro bono. “I’m enthusiastic about the museum and Dearborn’s history. I love the place, and with the help of the administration and council, I want to make it into a viable museum—something the city is proud of.”
City, museum begin discussions on funding increase
Last year, the city had to the museum department going forward. It was a decision that sparked its downsizing to just two part-time paid employees, and reduced hours of operation. But it also had the museum's future in mind—including major repairs and renovations needed at the Commandant's Quarters, McFadden-Ross House and museum offices.
At that time, city officials asked museum supporters to prove that they could be fiscally responsible before asking for capital improvement funds.
Council President Tom Tafelksi expressed concern at a recent meeting that the museum isn't there yet.
“What I’m worried about is that we’re not breaking even,” he said.
The five-year plan also asks the city for an annual operational subsidy of around $200,000, starting July 1 with fiscal year 2014—a request council members weren't thrilled to see.
“I appreciate the fact that you’re coming now,” Councilman David Bazzy said of the request for an increase in funding. “But you want $200,000. … Tell me how you’re going to use it. What’s the plan?”
Tate maintains the museum cannot expect to raise the funding to operate at the capacity needed to serve members and guests on its own. Within five years, he said, they expect to bring in $75,000-$100,000 per year.
According to Tate, the city charged the museum with generating $72,000 by the end of FY 2013.
“I don’t think we’re going to make that,” he said, adding that the number would likely be closer to $50,000 in revenue. “A lot of that had to do with the controversy last spring.”
That revenue includes $15,876 in membership payments and donations, funds made at events, as well as proceeds from the sale of the two volumes of Best Dearborn Stories—books of residents’ stories compiled and published by the Museum Guild of Dearborn.
Tate said they anticipate putting out a new bid request on the vacant lot owned by the museum on the corner of Brady and Michigan Avenue. Though a previous request yielded no potential buyers, Tate said he hopes the city’s new train station—set to be completed this year—will generate more interest in nearby property.
The five-year plan also details that the museum is in the process of applying for grants.
Museum works to inventory goods, plan programs
In the meantime, Tate said, museum staff and dozens of volunteers are working to develop more programs and exhibits, as well as audit the department’s some 72,000 items.
A total of 300 have been inventoried so far. The expectation is to deaccession duplicates or unneeded items, and tag and store the rest.
The museum aims, over the next few years, to develop at least 12 exhibits, activities and events to invite the public in and raise funds for the museum—as well as accomplish the ultimate goal, which is to keep Dearborn’s history alive.
In the immediate future, this will include reviving the museum’s family-friendly Teddy Bear Picnic in June, as well as launching a paid exhibit on the history of Dearborn high school sports.
In the future, Tate said the hope is to develop and grow bigger fundraisers—such as a golf outing.
But fundraising takes time, planning, and the effort of those dedicated to preserving and continuing the spread of knowledge about Dearborn’s history. Tate believes the museum can do it, but not without the city’s help and patience.
“I’m doing everything I can to bring support back in,” Tate said. “It isn’t going to happen in one year.”
Want to get involved with the Dearborn Historical Museum? Visit their website at www.thedhm.com.