A new era begins this summer for the Raleigh City Museum, which has spent years searching for ways to upgrade its aging exhibits and move toward a more stable budget.
The city’s parks and recreation department will assume day-to-day management of the Fayetteville Street space, a shift intended to allow the volunteer board to focus on raising money for new displays and programs.
The new setup, supporters say, puts Raleigh in line with a growing list of city museums that have merged with local governments, including those in Greensboro and High Point. In Raleigh, the possibility surfaced after the museum requested $15,000 to replace a faulty air conditioner in the historic Briggs Building space.
“We were just Band-Aiding things together each year,” incoming board chairwoman Carter Worthy said during the museum’s annual meeting last week.
With the air conditioning fixed, the City Council told museum leaders it was time to take a big-picture look at the financial problems and come up with a sustainable model.
“People really love history, but it’s difficult to raise money” for history displays, City Manager Russell Allen said in an interview.
The city already provides $150,000 to annually to support the museum, which was typically around half the organization’s total budget. The parks and rec department will use its organizational muscle to offer classes, summer camps and events for schoolchildren and adults.
“I would’ve preferred it been out of the public sector, but most of these museums can’t make it that way,” said City Councilman John Odom. “It’s one of those things we ought to do.”
The museum will be closed until mid-August while city crews install new phones and computers, and remodel the entrance to better manage the flow of visitors.
The city’s Urban Design Center will move to an upstairs portion of the Briggs Building. City planners and urban designers who make up the center previously worked in the Masonic Temple Building at Fayetteville and Hargett streets. A five-year lease begins Sept 1.
A network of venues
Two full-time staffers will join five to seven part-time docents, volunteers and site managers. Dianne Davidian, a longtime staff member, will remain with the museum on a contract basis during the transition.
The museum will be linked with Mordecai Historic Park and the nearby Pope House to form a trio of sites that showcase Raleigh’s history. School and tourist groups could visit all three, officials say.
Heading up the expanded operation is Troy Burton, a self-described history buff who also manages programs for the city at the Pope House, Fred Fletcher Amphitheater, The Raleigh Trolley and Tucker House.
“We’ve looked at the museum from afar for a long time,” Burton told supporters at last week’s annual meeting.
A top priority for the board is raising money to revamp the museum’s signature exhibit: a timeline that spans the length of a wall, tracing the city’s evolution from its founding through 2000.
The board has already approached Raleigh’s technology companies for help in creating an up-to-date timeline with digital images and sounds – think touch-pad screens and apps that let visitors pull up sounds and images on smart phones.
“I guess we believed in Y2K,” said past treasurer and Raleigh builder Greg Paul, describing the dated exhibit. “Time has indeed marched on.”