Funding shortfall forces Bangor Museum & History Center to close for winter

The exterior sign has been removed at the Bangor Museum and History Center at 159 Union St., Bangor. A sharp decline in the museum's operational funding forced the facility's closure for the winter.
Brian Swartz | BDN
The exterior sign has been removed at the Bangor Museum and History Center at 159 Union St., Bangor. A sharp decline in the museum's operational funding forced the facility's closure for the winter.
By Brian Swartz, Of the Weekly Staff
Posted Oct. 25, 2013, at 1:34 p.m.

BANGOR — For the first time in a long time, the Bangor Museum and History Center has closed for the winter.

Strong support from the community will help the museum reopen next spring.

Owned by the Bangor Historical Society, the BMHC is based in the Thomas A. Hill House, located at 159 Union St. The historical society has 75 members, according to the outgoing BMHC executive director Jennifer Pictou; membership dues and donations “fully fund” the museum’s less than $200,000 annual budget. Except through small competitive grants for specific programs, the museum receives no funds from the City of Bangor.

This year the BMHC has struggled to raise operational funds, a problem not unique to Bangor or Maine. “Countrywide, all museums are struggling,” Pictou said. “A lot of non-profits are asking for funding, but money is tight for everyone.

“There’s only so much that people can give,” she said.

Some 4,000 people visit the Bangor Museum and History Center annually, but the museum reaches beyond its walls to extend programs into the community. “We’re pushing the envelope of what can be done with museums,” Pictou said. “We are being followed by people in 19 countries through social media and our website.”

For example, the BMHC collaborates with the Bangor School Department to introduce history and theater at different grade levels. Grants from the Bangor Hydro-Electric Co., the Bangor Lions Club, and the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation make the collaboration possible, according to Pictou.

In a partnership with a teachers’ advisory committee and the Maine Discovery Museum, a current literacy program will incorporate local history as Bangor fourth-graders “will help write a storybook based on Minerva, a “store sign on Exchange Street” in spring 1911, Pictou said.

“Minerva saw the Great Fire of 1911 and the great effort afterward to rebuild Bangor,” she said. “The schoolchildren will illustrate and write the book.”

Since 2011, Bangor High School students have acted in short, on-site plays that illustrate specific moments in local Civil War history. A summer 2011 play held in West Market Square highlighted the sacking of the newspaper facilities (including the press) owned by Bangor publisher Marcellus Emery. He was outspoken in his opposition to the Civil War.

“We’re more than a pretty historical face,” Pictou said. “We work very closely with teachers; we make history fun.”

The Bangor Museum and History Center offers unpaid “summer internships” to local high school students “interested in history and the local community,” Pictou said.

“We do offer credit” with each internship, she pointed out. “We offer hours toward community service for students who need it to fulfill high school requirements or for college applications. We work with universities and colleges to offer credit for undergraduate and graduate students.”

In summer and fall, the museum offers historic tours encompassing historic Bangor, from the famous and infamous people buried at Mount Hope Cemetery to the ghosts haunting downtown Bangor to the Devil’s Half Acre, a place where lumbermen and sailors mingled with booze and prostitutes in the 19th century.

Other museum programs have included the popular Brown Bag Lunch Series and an annual exhibit tied to the Civil War sesquicentennial.

The BMHC’s diverse programs have garnered regional and national attention. The New England Museum Association presented its 2013 Publication Award to the museum for the “Sanitary Fair Cookbook” published in 2012.

“We do a lot with very little staff,” said Pictou, noting that the museum has the equivalent of “just over three full-time positions. Today “some of our programs are being emulated by other towns in Maine, [by local] historical societie”s and museums,” and she often hears from other museum professionals seeking information about specific programs.

Pictou views the BMHC as “an added value to Bangor,” as an asset that “enhances the cultural flavor and economy” and attracts “people [who] want to come to Bangor.

“Over the last two years, we have not only become Bangor’s award-winning museum, we contribute to the local economy,” she said. “We put well over $100,000 a year into the local economy” by purchasing “goods and services through local suppliers and vendors. We want that relationship with local businesses.”

With the museum’s operational funding declining, directors voted reluctantly to close the museum “this winter for the first time in many winters,” Pictou said. Plans call for reopening the museum in spring 2014, but funding remains problematic.

Community members can support the Bangor Museum and History Center by becoming members, volunteering, or making donations. “We are asking the community to support us so we can continue to offer our programs,” Pictou said. “We need more members of the Bangor community to recognize how important we are to the city’s culture and economy.

“We need the community’s help; we can’t do it without them,” she said. “We are Bangor’s best-kept secret. We want to change that.”

Donations can be made by clicking on the “Donate” button on the museum’s home page at bangormuseum.org or by mailing a check to Bangor Museum and History Center, 159 Union St., Bangor, ME 04401.

Supporters can join the museum by clicking on the “More” button on the home page and then clicking on “Membership Programs.” Various membership levels are listed.

For more information about the Bangor Museum and History Center, log onto bangormuseum.org or follow the museum on Facebook or Twitter.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/10/25/news/funding-shortfall-forces-bangor-museum-history-center-to-close-for-winter/ printed on April 23, 2014