Arts & Entertainment, Lakeshore, and Nonprofits

Muskegon Museum of Art beholds last phase of $7.5M capital campaign

February 25, 2013
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Muskegon Museum of Art beholds last phase of $7.5M capital campaign
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As the Muskegon Museum of Art celebrated its 100th year last year, it also kicked off a $7.5 million capital campaign to help it live on for another 100 years.

Founded in 1912 by Muskegon Public Schools, the art museum was the first in the country in a city of Muskegon’s size to have a dedicated building for housing artwork.

At the time of its founding, it was not uncommon for schools and government units to own libraries and museums. In fact, Muskegon Public Schools also owned the Hackley Library, which began operating independently just over a decade ago.

“I suspect that the challenges beginning in the ’20s and ’30s may have altered that concept of what a public school district might be involving itself in,” said Judith Hayner, executive director of the museum. “I think if you think about the challenges of the Depression, it probably redefined community roles and responsibility and probably limited them.”

That’s why Hayner believes Muskegon Public Schools deserves a lot of credit for its operation of the museum for a full century, as well as its running of the library. She also credits the district for its commitment to helping the museum transition successfully into an independent operation, which it will become in July 2014.

“We had the good fortune of a governing body that was responsible for this institution understanding that it really took careful planning to create a successful transition. We started working on that idea in 2010.

“I know that in our region there have been governmental units that have owned museums, and I have to tell you I think in most cases transitions have not been well thought out to the detriment of the museums, and that is unfortunate. It really takes a lot of work to create that kind of successful transition.”

The genesis for the “Inspire: The Investment Campaign for the Future of the Muskegon Museum of Art,” according to Hayner, was the recognition that a successful transition was going to require at least $10 million.

“We had an independent endowment fund at the community foundation that was running somewhat under $2 million,” she said. “What can we do to build that? Because by all rights, it has to be $10 million.”

The capital campaign is now nearly 95 percent complete with $7.127 million already raised out of the total $7.5 million goal. The campaign is expected to be completed, successfully, in May.

“The campaign was structured so that people could make pledges from five to 10 years, depending on the level," Hayner said. "So we will see the influx of funds coming in over a period of time, but even this first year several of our donors made decisions to frontload the effort.”

The campaign calls for $5 million to be used for the endowment fund for permanent resources; $1.5 million that will go toward a facilities improvement fund, and another $1 million for programming during the next several years.

Once fundraising is completed the focus will shift to the transition, which Hayner said is basically like starting from scratch with a new organization.

“We do expect to do the programming and exhibitions that we always have,” Hayner said of the initial years following the transition. “We do a pretty ambitious exhibition program. We mount usually between 12 to 15 different exhibitions each year, which is pretty ambitious for a small museum. I’d see us continuing that pace.”

Hayner also said that the museum would continue its focus on contemporary, living artists, including its annual competitive regional art exhibition for Michigan artists, which now is in its 85th year.

“We spend a lot of resources on the living arts community in terms of creating exhibition opportunities and networking opportunities,” she said. “That is somewhat unique in our museum. I think a lot of art museums may not make that connection. We deliberately sustain that connection between the regional art community.”

Hayner pointed out that the museum owns the only Edward Hopper painting in the state; a piece that it acquired when the artist was still alive.

“We have some absolute masterworks in this collection,” she said.

The museum also will continue to focus its efforts on remaining financially viable.

“I think we are really focused on financial security,” Hayner said. “We have created a base from which to operate and I think we’ve proven that in the last 10 years. We have increased our support. When we look at our underwriting program and corporate support memberships, annual gifts, all of those different revenue streams . . . all of those have been strengthened.

“Our focus is to increase that," she said. "We aren’t assuming that we would have an endowment large enough to not have to do the rest of those things. We still need to do the rest of those things.”

Hayner also hopes to be able to double membership from 1,000 active members to 2,000. She believes that membership is a key element for the organization’s sustainability in the future, and given that the current capital campaign has consisted of 224 total individual donors, she is likely right.

“It’s a small core of people that have made this happen,” she said.

She credits the commitment of these couple of hundred community members to retaining a vibrant arts scene in Muskegon, as well as understanding the unique position Muskegon holds along the Lakeshore.

“It’s the only city from New Buffalo to the (Mackinac) bridge that has a nationally accredited museum, a historical library, performing arts center, civic theater, symphony and a historical museum as the core elements of the cultural bones of the community," Hayner said. "No other city along this lakeshore has all of those pieces. That is something that I think makes Muskegon unique.”

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