N.C. Museum of History steps up fundraising

Ken Howard
Ken Howard

Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — The N.C. Museum of History is planning a series of new exhibits, including its first permanent exhibit on the state’s history, and is turning to private fundraising to pay for them in the face of cuts in state funds it receives.

The focus of the permanent exhibit, which will total 20,000 square feet, will range from the pre-history of the state before the time of the Indians to the late 1960s.

The exhibit will cost $14 million, including $6.3 million state lawmakers approved in 2006 as part of the state budget, plus $7 million to $8 million the museum wants to raise through a campaign.

Still in a quiet phase that began in spring 2008, the campaign so far has raised $1.1 million, says Ken Howard, museum director.

To make room for the new exhibit on its main level, the museum this spring will relocate classrooms to its Fletcher Garden level one floor below in space that initially was to have housed a restaurant and now will serve as home to an education center there and a new old-time soda shop.

The museum also has opened “Knights of the Black Flag,” an exhibit that focuses on pirates, and plans to open another exhibit next January that will focus on Thomas Day, a free person of color in the antebellum South who made furniture and worked on architectural features for buildings, including some at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

For the pirate exhibit, which ranges from ancient to modern times and includes a section from Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s flagship, as well as artifacts from the wreck and information about its discovery and the preservation process, the museum wants to raise $200,000.

So far, it has raised just over $100,000, including funds from SunTrust, the main sponsor, and contributed air time from Time Warner Cable and Curtis Media Group.

For the Thomas Day exhibit, which will feature the largest collection anywhere of his furniture and which the museum hopes will travel outside the state, the museum aims to raise $500,000.

With $5 million in state funds to cover annual salary and operating expenses, the museum also counts on roughly $150,000 a year generated by the N.C. Museum of History Associates, the museum’s membership group that generates revenue from dues from its 2,200 members, sales from the museum shop it operates, and events it sponsors.

The museum in past years has used for programming 10 percent of the state funds it receives, Howard says.

But with the state expected to cut agency budgets by at least seven percent, the museum likely will have “little or no money for programming,” he says. “We now have to raise privately most of the money we need for programming and education.”

So the museum now is recruiting sponsors for nearly every exhibit, along with donations for nearly every program, he says.

Dawn Lowder, the museum’s director of development, who with Howard in 2007 raised $1 million in cash and in-kind contributions for “Mysteries of the Lost Colony,” an exhibit it staged in partnership with the British Museum, says the museum this spring will launch a program to raise planned gifts.

The museum also plans soon to begin holding fundraising dinners at supporters’ homes to attract private donors.

“The state funds are no longer sufficient,” he says.

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