Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

June 18, 2014

Forum: History in TC — How did we get here?

A recent front-page article in the Record-Eagle (May 17) presented a description of the current state of affairs at the History Center of Traverse City. The following may clarify the picture.

For 80 years the City has owned and managed, or contracted the management of, a collection of artifacts known as the Con Foster Collection. The preservation and care of this collection of materials, gathered from around the Grand Traverse region and throughout North America by Traverse City pioneer Conrad Foster, became the responsibility of our City government upon Mr. Foster’s death in 1940 and was eventually housed in a building named for its founder in Clinch Park.

After several years of City management, the government chose in 1994 to contract with the Friends of the Con Foster Museum, known today as the History Center of Traverse City, for proper management and preservation of that collection.

Subsequently, in 1999, the City requested that the organization move the collection to the former Carnegie Library building on Sixth Street, then in serious need of renovation. After the third such request the organization agreed to assume responsibility for care of the collection and the building. After raising the $1.5 million for needed repairs to the old structure, the collection was moved, and the History Center museum, featuring the Con Foster Collection, was opened to the community in 2003.

My memory of the discussions leading up to the move include the City Manager offering a financial inducement to offset the cost of managing the collection and the operation of what was then a 95-year-old building. Over the last several years, however, City government has become less willing to provide support, and after much discussion insisted that the History Center find a way to support and manage those City-owned properties without the originally proffered funding.

Doing its best to meet the City demand, the History Center put significant effort into new programs, new marketing and new uses for the building in order to replace the lost funding. However, the condition of the Carnegie Building and the cost of the professional curatorial staff required for management of the collection has proven too costly an undertaking to accomplish without City support.

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