News Column

History museum announces $3 million campaign

June 20, 2014

By Mary Ann Ford, The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

June 20--BLOOMINGTON -- The McLean County Museum of History plans to develop new first-floor exhibits, expand its technology, increase education programs at schools and nursing homes, and change outside landscaping with money raised from a $3 million capital campaign currently underway.

A behind-the-scenes fundraising effort started about six months ago but not announced publicly until Thursday night's History Makers Gala. The campaign, "Extending Excellence," already has raised $1.9 million.

"Heading into it, we wanted to show the community that there is widespread support," said Greg Koos, executive director of the museum.

"These are great circumstances to be in," said Craig Alexander, president of the museum and co-chairman of the campaign.

Some $1.2 million will be used for interactive first-floor exhibits, "Challenges, Choices and Change," which will tell McLean County's history through the stories of people who came to the county -- similar to the stories told during the museum's annual Evergreen Memorial Cemetery Walk.

"We learned how to tell these stories better and more broadly because of the Cemetery Walk," Koos said. "Everybody came for a different reason."

The Lincoln Gallery will be added to the first floor in the now-unused first-floor courtroom, Koos said.

"It will look at McLean County's influence on Lincoln as an attorney and a politician," he said.

Each exhibit area will include a variety of technology such as video mini-theaters, Smart boards, touchscreen discovery panels, smartphone apps, digital photo displays, online access and audio enhancements.

Work on the galleries will be done on a rolling base from 2016 to 2018.

"We didn't want to shut the museum down," said Beth Whisman, the museum's director of development. "People use us every day."

Another $1 million will be earmarked for an education programs endowment that will allow the museum to pay for another full-time educator, bringing that staff up to three people.

"We have a growing need for off-site programs," Koos said. "We want staff to do more work with schools ... and we also are doing a lot of presentations at assisted living and nursing home facilities. We have specific programs for people with memory losses."

Koos said the museum will spend 5 percent of the endowment -- $50,000 a year -- for the employee's salary and benefits. The behind-the-scenes campaign has already raised $200,000 for the endowment and a part-time educator has been hired.

The campaign also includes $500,000 so the museum can continue digitizing its resources; upgrade its computer system; and provide public Wi-Fi inside and outside the building. A person has been hired to focus solely on the digital initiative, which includes processing The Pantagraph's photo collection. Koos said 30,000 pictures already have been processed. The photos will be accessible to everyone.

The digital resources also will be available for classroom use, fitting in with Common Core educational standards, Koos said. Those resources will include 35 "Pages of the Past" columns by museum librarian Bill Kemp and related items including photos, newspaper articles, etc.

"That becomes a kit teachers can use to help kids engage in critical discussion," Koos said.

The museum also plans $75,000 in landscaping, including leveling the ground, planting Burr oaks in each corner, removing trees and shrubs next to the building and generally "visually enhancing the square," Koos said.

The remaining $225,000 will be used to cover campaign expenses, he said.


(c)2014 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.)

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Source: Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL)

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