Traverse City’s History Center has seen a lot over its nearly 112 years, but the latest news has not been good. The center is bleeding red ink, its city stipend ends this year, it has eliminated its executive director, it’s down to three part-time employees and is borrowing against a fund just to make payroll.
It needs help, and soon. And while there are at least two would-be partner groups that want to come to the rescue, deciding how they fit — into the center’s ongoing mission and, literally, into the beautiful old building on 6th Street — is up in the air.
Decisions made now will have long-term repercussions for the History Center, good or bad. Making the right choice is critical.
The building was built as a Carnegie Library in 1902 — one of 61 in Michigan — and served as the city’s library until the Woodmere building opened in January of 1999.
The Carnegie Building is now home to the History Center and hosts a number of events, including the annual Festival of Trains. It is home to both the city owned Con Foster collection and its own historical archives and photographs.
Two groups — the National Cherry Festival and Artcenter Traverse City — want to partner with the History Center, share the space and put some money toward the bottom line.
Cherry Festival officials have had on-and-off talks with the History Center for the last six years about leasing office space, said Trevor Tkach, the festival’s executive director.
“If we would move the offices there, it would be a good home for us,” Tkach said.
In addition to paying rent, Cherry Festival staff also could offer marketing and management expertise and help with special events, Tkach said. The organization already has an investment in the History Center because the Center houses the festival’s historic archives.
The Artcenter’s board has been talking to the History Center since the fall, said Artcenter board member Bob Streit.
Artcenter, which was founded in 1951, the same year as Northwestern Michigan College and the Traverse Symphony, hasn’t had display space since it moved out of All Faiths Chapel three years ago.
Its members argue that combining Artcenter and the History Center under the same roof would create a dynamic cultural entity for the city. It’s hard to argue with that. Artcenter said the Carnegie building would provide space for performance arts, galleries, and classrooms.
This is going to be a critical year for the History Center. The one option that must be off the table is that it will close its doors; but with two seemingly viable partnering options, that shouldn’t be a concern.
This is a time for good choices. The next 111 years may depend on them.