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Archive for Thursday, April 8, 2004

County Commission lauds museum’s drive for change

April 8, 2004

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The Watkins Community Museum of History already plans to spend the year $31,000 in the hole, but museum officials are banking on a part-time consultant to help lift the organization back into black ink -- and beyond.

Dick Martin, a former director of the University of Missouri-Kansas City's Athletics Foundation, will earn $25,000 this year to lead the museum's drive to generate donations and grants.

His first step: compiling a feasibility study designed to set a realistic goal, create a plan to achieve it and appoint committees to carry it through. Next up could be establishing an endowment to keep the downtown museum running well into the future.

"I'm very positive," Martin told Douglas County commissioners Wednesday night during an informal discussion at the Douglas County Courthouse. "I'm happy to be here."

Commissioners welcomed Martin's optimism.

The museum, operated by the Douglas County Historical Society, has been a focal point for commissioners in recent years. First, they pushed for a management change that ousted longtime museum director Steve Jansen; then they insisted on other changes that led to new leadership on the society's board of directors.

Commissioners had grown worried about what they perceived as the museum's overall disorganization, foundering financial situation and lack of a long-term plan.

For this year, commissioners decided to put money behind their pressure: They allocated $25,000 to the museum, with the sole purpose of hiring someone to generate more money for the museum through grants and donations.

Several moves by Rebecca Phipps, hired last year as museum director, already have shaken up the status quo:

  • Adding new displays, including a current exhibit about the Vietnam War and another, "150 Years of Lingerie," designed to coincide with Lawrence's sesquicentennial this year.
  • Boosting children's programming through a partnership with Kansas University students and financed by a grant from the Lawrence Community Foundation.
  • Establishing Miss Lizzie's Gifts, an expanded gift shop upstairs at the museum, 1047 Mass.
  • Working on a proposal to install a kitchen in the basement, a $20,000 project that would be designed to make the museum more attractive for wedding receptions, meetings and other events that could generate cash for operations.

Commissioners encouraged Phipps to continue executing her vision for the museum.

"I think you've done great stuff," said Charles Jones, commission chairman. "I think you're breathing life into the organization."

But even with membership rising, community interest expanding and financial donations increasing, Phipps said, the museum still will be $31,000 short at the end of the year.

That's why she hired Martin.

"He's working as a consultant to find those moneys," Phipps told commissioners.

Martin's quick response: "I haven't found them yet."

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