Bangor History Museum’s future remains uncertain after closure, top administrators resign

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.
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.
Posted Nov. 01, 2013, at 1:51 p.m.

The Bangor Historical Society announced this week that it would close its Bangor Museum & History Center facilities for the winter, effective immediately. It also was revealed that Executive Director Jennifer Pictou and curator Dana Lippett both resigned Thursday from their positions.

Though no official timetable has been set, and the necessary funding has not been secured, Melissa Gerety, vice president of the BMHC board of directors, said that remaining Historical Society staff and board members hoped to have the museum, based in the Thomas A. Hill House at 159 Union St., ready to reopen sometime in April or May 2014.

“We used to close [for the winter], back in the early 2000s … it’s not unprecedented. This is the slow season. We don’t have a new exhibit until spring anyway,” said Gerety. “I appreciate the attention, but it’s kind of a non-story.”

In the meantime, the Bangor Public Library will house and make available to the public the museum’s historical archives and photographs, set to be available sometime in November.

“We are happy to help the Bangor Museum by housing and perhaps even digitizing these materials so important to our city’s history,” Barbara McDade, library director, said in a Friday press release. “Although our missions are not the same, we do have a similar responsibility to educate our community about Bangor’s rich history and preserve the city’s history for future generations.”

Attempts to reach outgoing director Pictou for comment, as well as board of directors’ president Michael Aube of Eastern Maine Development Corporation, were unsuccessful as of 1 p.m. Friday. In an interview last week with The Weekly, a Bangor Daily News publication, Pictou spoke about the difficulties nonprofits in general have had in recent years with fundraising. The BMHC has an annual budget of less than $200,000, fully-funded by membership dues from its 75 members, as well as donations.

“Countrywide, all museums are struggling,” Pictou said. “A lot of nonprofits are asking for funding, but money is tight for everyone … There’s only so much that people can give.”

Gerety said that while the museum is closed for the winter, the board plans to make some changes to the structure of the organization, as well as start the search for a new director and curator.

“We have a lot of changes to make staff-wise … Part of what the board will be doing over the winter will be to sit down and figure out what we want to look like and see what our funding needs really are,” said Gerety. “Our biggest goal is to make sure we are delivering the type of entity the Bangor region really wants to support.”

In addition to operating the facility on Union Street, the BMHC works with Bangor schools to create history programming, and also offers a brown bag lunch series and seasonal historical tours of Bangor, some of which are funded by grants from Bangor Hydro Electric Company, the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation and the Bangor Lion’s Club. Currently, BMHC volunteer and University of Maine adjunct professor Mark Nicklawske is tweeting the diaries of a Maine Civil War veteran, posting updates to Twitter from the corresponding date in the diary from 150 years ago.

The organization has had a difficult time financially for many years now. According to Lippett, in the 15 years that she has been curator, BMHC has had ten different executive directors — both interim and official. In 2005, Bill and Sally Arata of Veazie donated to the BMHC the Merchant’s Bank Building, located on Broad Street facing West Market Square, to house a brand-new museum. Though attempts were made to renovate the building, the multi-million dollar cost of completing it was too much for the organization to handle, and the project was abandoned.

“If everyone, staff and board alike, doesn’t make an effort to raise money, we fall back into this abyss, again and again,” said Lippett. “We have to lay a groundwork of financial stability, or this will just keep happening.

“It’s been very hard to let go of all this,” said Lippett. “It’s been an emotional week.”

Donations can be made online or by mailing a check to the Bangor Museum and History Center, 159 Union St., Bangor, ME 04401. Various membership levels are listed on the website. For more information about the Bangor Museum and History Center, visit bangormuseum.org or follow the museum on Facebook or Twitter.

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