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High Point Museum aims to grow

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By Todd Cohen

HIGH POINT, N.C. — Despite losing visitors during two lengthy periods when it was closed, the High Point Museum is attracting more visitors and has increased revenue by a fourth over the past six years.

Over the past three years, the museum has worked to raise its profile in the community and better serve Africa-Americans, says Barbara Taylor, president.

Now, as it completes an inventory of its holdings and prepares for a new exhibit on the furniture industry, the museum aims to stabilize its finances, expand its staff and take steps to build its membership, which has remained flat in recent years.

“We will be a very professional organization that is known throughout the city and used by citizens,” Taylor says.

Founded in 1971, the museum is housed in a 25,000-square-foot facility that opened in 2001, doubling its previous space.

It also includes six historical buildings, three of them at the museum site, the others within a few miles or less.

The city of High Point owns all the buildings.

The museum attracts roughly 12,000 visitors a year and serves another 4,000 to 6,000 with programs for adults, civic groups and public schools in Guilford, Forsyth, Randolph and Davidson counties.

Revenue for programs has grown to $500,000 a year from $400,000 six years ago.

Helping to fuel that increase have been grants, including $300,000 this year from the city of High Point and $50,000 from Guilford County.

Because the museum is free, it depends on annual dues from 300 members, and counts on special events to generate new visitors and members.

On December 3, for example, the museum’s annual open house attracted over 400 visitors, nearly 75 percent of whom had never visited it before, says Taylor.

Overall, Taylor says, she would like to see annual fundraising from events double to at least $40,000.

The museum was closed for three years of renovations starting in 1997, and for another 16 months after a fire two years ago.

Three years ago, the museum undertook several initiatives to increase its visibility and serve a more diverse audience.

It has installed directional signs to the museum throughout the city, and developed additional signs at least once a year to promote major exhibits such as “When Racing Was Racing,” an exhibit that it presented in 2003.

The museum also invited African-Americans to help it find artifacts and photographs to tell their stories, and published a gallery guide to African-American artifacts within its collection.

Now, as it looks ahead to the next three years, the museum is seeking a grant to create a permanent display based on over 1,000 items on the furniture industry it received from the former Furniture Discovery Center.

That display should open in 2009, the city’s 150th anniversary.

And the museum has completed roughly half of its effort to inventory its collection, which totals 20,000 pieces.

To help stabilize its finances, the museum aims to develop an ongoing stream of revenue.

Taylor says she also hopes within a year to develop a planned-giving program to help increase the museum’s endowment, which now totals $500,000.

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