RALEIGH — The Raleigh City Museum officially reopens Tuesday in a renovated space under city – rather than private – management, a conversion administrator Troy Burton says began with a broken air conditioner and will end in a richer visitor experience.
The nonprofit group that ran the 19-year-old history museum had long struggled to raise enough money, Burton said. When it asked the city for an emergency $15,000 to fix the broken cooling system last year, city leaders began looking for a more sustainable way to manage the museum.
“The city has the personnel and the programming to take the museum to the next level,” said David Diaz, CEO of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, a nonprofit that promotes downtown.
Diaz helped research management alternatives and joined in recommending that the city take control, a plan the city council approved in June. “Here you have somebody who can really sink their teeth into it, and not worry about if they’re going to make budget,” he said.
The city’s first move was to redesign the museum’s space in the former Brigg’s Hardware Building on Fayetteville Street, at a cost of $55,000, said Burton, who oversees museums and historic resources for the city.
In the past, patrons had to walk from the lobby through a small corridor to enter the museum. The reworked floor plan includes reception and exhibition space that opens directly to the street, separated from the main gallery only by a glass-walled museum shop.
Linking museum to others
The city also hired Ernest Dollar, former director of the Chapel Hill Preservation Society, to be the museum’s executive director. Dollar, one of 127 applicants for the position, said he’d like to use city resources such as Raleigh’s trolley to link exhibits in the Briggs building to historic sites like the Pope House.
“I think one of my biggest goals is to get the museum out of its four walls,” Dollar said.
Diaz said he hopes to see the number of visitors double within five years, and said integration could help achieve that.
“The city is in a really good position to leverage their other cultural assets for the benefit of the Raleigh City Museum,” he said. “If they can make that happen, that will be great.”
The city has increased its contribution to the museum by about 15 percent, to $198,000 this year, Diaz said. Other city resources, such as the marketing department and staff at other museums, also will create cost savings and allow the museum to offer extended hours, Burton said. The museum will open on Sundays for the first time and will launch two new exhibits next July 4.
Other planned additions include summer camp events and educational programs for schoolchildren.
The museum will begin charging admission of $5 for adults and $3 for ages 7 to 17 rather than suggesting a donation, Burton said. It also hopes to bring in revenue by renting out the renovated museum entryway for events, he said, with 100 percent of proceeds to return to museum operations.
The Raleigh City Museum nonprofit has transitioned into a “friends” group that will raise money for museum exhibits, said chairwoman Carter Worthy.
“What this means to the citizens of Raleigh is expanded program offerings, more chances to access exhibits on the history of Raleigh and a more robust presentation of Raleigh’s past, present and future,” Worthy said.