News Column

Isle of Wight Museum fundraiser hits goal

July 1, 2014

By Ryan Murphy, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)

July 01--A fundraising effort for the Isle of Wight County Museum hit its goal of $26,000 after a host of last-minute donations.

Isle of Wight Historic Society President Lee Duncan, who spearheaded the campaign, said more than 70 individuals contributed, some from as far away as Colorado, Florida and California. Those gifts, along with two $5,000 contributions from the Historic Society and the museum's foundation, will cover the museum's operations for the fiscal year.

Many feared the museum -- which saw 14,000 visitors last year to its location on Main Street in Smithfield -- would close after Isle of Wight County revealed it would cut funding to the Historic Resources Division, which oversaw the museum. Citizen outcry and some coordination with the Town of Smithfield led to a cost-sharing program that saw the county paying the expenses for the building and the town covering the staffing costs.

That agreement left the museum $26,000 short of its projected operational needs, including the maintenance and preservation of exhibits.

"We felt confident that there were enough people who loved the museum to get it funded," Duncan said. "Instead of having one leg to stand on -- the county -- it's a three-legged stool with the county, the town and private citizens."

Fundraising was a nerve-wracking process, Duncan said. A week ahead of the self-imposed July 1 deadline, the effort was still $6,000 short. Many who were taking a wait-and-see approach, however, contributed at the end of June.

Duncan said one "silver lining" of the museum's funding ordeal is that it brought local residents and groups together and gave everyone a greater sense of ownership over a community resource like the museum.

"Folks from all across the community did unify. The town government and county love an opportunity to point fingers, but this was an opportunity to get them to come together, and they did," Duncan said.

"Small towns have turf -- 'This is my project, these are my donors,' " Duncan said. "There's teams and there's groups and there's separation, and a lot for those lines and walls fell away for the museum."

Looking to the future, Duncan says he's hoping to see a series of smaller, more practical ways to raise money for the museum -- things such as fundraiser cocktail dinner events, grants and a nominal entry fee for the museum.

"Nothing is for certain, but it's certain it's going to be there if we're going to keep making an effort," Duncan said.

Murphy can be reached by phone at 757-247-4760.


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Source: Daily Press (Newport News, VA)

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