Traverse City Record-Eagle


June 8, 2014

Forum: Who's going to care for the city's history?

The History Center of Traverse City, our area’s Smithsonian Institution, is in imminent danger of shutting down. Located in the City’s Carnegie Library building on Sixth Street, the Center is the caretaker of the city-owned Con Foster Collection of museum artifacts. For decades the City contracted with the History Center (a non-profit organization not part of city government) to care for the City’s Carnegie building and collection.

However, in the fall of 2013, the City cut all public funding for the Center, leaving it on its own to maintain the publicly-owned building and artifacts.

Despite great effort expended in fundraising activities, the History Center has determined it is impossible for a private non-profit of its size to responsibly manage the City’s building and collection without City assistance.

We are able to maintain our privately-owned research archives, and pay a part-time archivist. But we cannot, on our own, continue to fund the City-owned building and collection.

The Con Foster Collection has a deep connection to our region’s history. It includes furniture from the Perry Hannah House; memorabilia from the State Hospital; hundreds of pieces of Cherry Festival history; and many mid-20th-century items. Collectively, these artifacts tell the story of how a small northern Michigan town (which could have disappeared after the lumber ran out) transformed itself into a world-renowned destination of beauty and charm. Fifteen years ago, the History Center raised $1.4 million to renovate the Carnegie Library to serve as a permanent home for these and thousands of other items.

Unfortunately, if the City government does not reinstitute financial support for the History Center, these treasures are in jeopardy. Without public support, the Con Foster Collection is in the same danger as the Detroit Institute of Arts’ collection. There, patrons donated art they expected to be preserved for the future. So, too, Northern Michigan residents donated items expecting they would be treasured and safeguarded for generations to come.

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