Museum looks for financial support
© Virginia News GroupMoney – or a shortage of it – and moving – or the possibility of it – are two matters on the minds of those who chart the future direction of the Museum of Culpeper History.
In February, museum board treasurer Bob Kenefick, on behalf of the board, asked the Culpeper Town council for $30,000 in emergency funds citing several financial considerations.
The council agreed to the one-time grant.
Tuesday, in a phone conversation with Culpeper Times, Kenefick chatted about the challenges facing the museum. They can be condensed into two words: money and location.
“We think the museum is something special,” said Kenefick. “It's not just a hunk of brick and mortar with stodgy artifacts. It has everything from dinosaur tracks to a Hall of Fame baseball player and everything in between.”
For five years running, the museum also is featuring exhibits of what was happening in Culpeper 150 years ago during the War Between the States This year: 1863.
“It's important when people think of the museum that they not think of cobwebs and dust, but of something active and interesting,” said Kenefick. “Lee (Langston-Harrison, museum executive director) has done a great job, but I'm not sure enough people appreciate what we have.”
Money, money, money
Kenefick said that prior to the economic meltdown of 2007-08 the museum received $92,500 per year in state, county and town aid. Now it gets $10,000 from the county and free rent plus $6, 250 from the town.
“We appreciate the contribution of the town and county, particularly because we know they have financial challenges, too,” Kenefick said. “But our funding has been reduced by about 85 ½ percent and that's tough to make up. Nevertheless we have managed to survive the last five or six years.”
The museum holds a yearly membership drive (it's major revenue source), charges visitors from outside Culpeper County a small admission fee and holds fundraisers such as the summer “Libations on the Lawn” and a newly established yearly bluegrass festival.
There are also plans for an alfresco dinner in Brandy Station with a three-course dinner and an auction this summer.
“This fiscal year (which ends June 30) we have just come up short,” Kenefick said. “We asked the town to help us meet expenses until June 30 and it graciously did. We think of that money as an investment because we believe the museum adds value to the town.”
Kenefick said the museum board is in the planning stages of a much bigger fundraising effort for FY 2014, which it plans to unveil in the next few weeks.
“We hope to rally the community around the idea of raising not only enough for operating expenses, but also funding an endowment from which we could draw five percent each year toward operating expenses.”
Kenefick said the yearly operating costs of the museum – exluding the exhibits – is about $120,000.
More than 35 outside agencies requested money from the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors to consider in its next budge cycle. The museum requested $40,000. According to County Finance Director Valerie Lamb, as with other requested funds, there is no guarantee. There is a public hearing set for April 23 and the county will adopt its budget and set a tax rate May 7.
Town Treasurer/Finance Director Ron Mabry wrote in an e-mail that “The Museum of Culpeper History is shown within the Economic Development departmental budget at a funding level of $6,250 (per year). The other group shown within that department is CRI at a funding level of $100,000 (yearly). Both expenditures are reviewed in the same manner as all other funding requests.”
The town is also in the process of developing its FY14 budget, which will be adopted in June.
Location, location, location
There has been preliminary discussion about the museum moving to the downtown Depot into the space now occupied by the Culpeper County Chamber of Commerce. The chamber has a lease until the spring of 2014.
“If they choose to move, I hope we have first right of refusal on their space,” said Langston-Harrison. “I think that would give us more visibility and also about 1,000 extra square feet of floor space.”
Timing is important. Langston-Harrison said the best time to move would be in January when the museum is already closed to renew exhibits.
“We might have to close in February, too, and then reopen in March. If all the stars align the best timing for us would be Dec. 2013 through February 2014 to make the move,” Langston-Harrison said.
The museum – established in 1975 -- moved to its current location – the former Culpeper Library – in 2000 from a Davis Street site where the Copper Fish is now located.
With the State Theatre scheduled to open in May, Langston-Harrison said the museum would bring one more cultural entity to the downtown.
“People could stay, shop, play and learn,” she said. “I feel we could double visitation the first year. We could get a lot of people off the trains and see a healthy increase in admission fees. And one of my dreams is to work out a program with downtown restaurants where if a visitor has a museum ticket they would get five or 10 percent off their meal.”
Jim Charapich, chamber CEO/president, shared his perspective in an e-mail.
He said he understands the town is studying the feasibility of the Depot Visitor's Center being run by the tourism department. He said the chamber would be interested in seeing a cost-benefit analysis on that and on the museum moving into the Depot.
“The downtown has seen the Department of Human Services move to a location outside of the downtown relocating a significant number of office workers, This is certainly an impact on the downtown economy,” Charapich wrote. “In addition, there are other businesses considering relocating out of the downtown area.
“As the Chamber of Commerce and managing the Visitor Center for Culpeper, we have anchored the redevelopment of the downtown for the last decade. … If the chamber relocates I am not sure what impact this would have on the downtown.”
Charapich wrote that as a hub of business the chamber successfully communicates the benefits of Culpeper to visitors, providing a significant contribution to the downtown
“It is feasible for the chamber and the museum to (share) the Depot if the Department of Tourism moved to another town administrative office,” Charapich said. “The space at the museum is also very attractive to consider as a location of the chamber. With proper planning, approvals and financial feasibility we are open to this option as well.”
Lori Sorrentino, town tourism director said she thinks locating the museum at the Depot would be “a natural from a tourist standpoint. It would be a good draw.”
“It would be a destination at the end of Davis Street to help bring people downtown,” he said.