Focus, Arts & Entertainment, and Lakeshore

Muskegon Museum of Art grows its capital campaign

Director says visitors to MMA leave feeling differently about Muskegon.

September 20, 2013
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The Muskegon Museum of Art's endowment fund will cover approximately 50 percent of the facility's annual operating expenses. Prior to the capital campaign, only about 30 percent of annual costs were being covered through the fund.

In preparation for its transference to an independent institution in July 2014, the Muskegon Museum of Art launched a $7.5 million capital campaign last September. The campaign has reached its initial goal and continues to grow as it works to fulfill another $70,000 challenge offered this summer.

MMA Executive Director Judith Hayner said she expects the campaign to reach $7.55 million when all is said and done. She added she has been surprised every step of the way and does not expect to stop being surprised as the campaign comes to an end.

“I think it has been a remarkable effort in this community,” Hayner said. “It just leaves me speechless sometimes. It is such evidence of this group in this region who understand why art museums matter.”

The campaign included several challenge grants that helped it get to this point: an initial $1 million challenge grant from the Community Foundation for Muskegon County that required MMA board and staffers to match that amount; $350,000 from the Frey Foundation once 80 percent of the $7.5 million goal was reached; a challenge to Ottawa County residents by the Marion A. & Ruth K. Sherwood Family Fund of Grand Haven to reach $100,000 in order to receive another $200,000; another $100,000 matching grant from the Robert D. and C. Corcoran Tuttle Fund; and the recent $70,000 challenge that came from Mike and Kay Olthoff.

Challenge grants are a common practice in fundraising, but that doesn’t make them any less daunting to achieve.

“As a recipient, it is challenging and scary … but it’s a good strategy,” Hayner said. “When you have that challenge, it is a push to everybody that says, ‘Come on, let’s pile on here and make sure we can get to the finish line.’”

With the money raised, the MMA plans to put $5 million into its endowment fund to help support the museum annually; $1.5 million will go toward facility improvements, including lighting and HVAC upgrades; and $1 million will be used to continue museum programming and exhibitions in the coming years.

“We had created this campaign with the idea that any donation of $25,000 or less could be pledged over five years, and any donation or commitment of more than $25,000 could be done over 10 years,” Hayner explained. “So the realization of the campaign is a long-term process.

“We knew that we would need some money in the shorter term — while we are waiting for all the pledges to be fulfilled — to handle some of the normal programming and exhibition needs.”

Hayner said the endowment fund would help support the organization annually at about 50 percent of its overall operational costs.

“Even with all of this, we are still going to be in the position of raising, every 12 months, probably a good 50 to 60 percent of what we need to operate with,” she said.

Hayner said the MMA’s budget for this year is $1.2 million and noted that, recently, the museum has had to raise nearly 70 percent each year to cover its costs.

“That is not feasible,” she said. “As our endowment fund increases, we will get back to that 50-50 ratio.”

Admissions, underwriting, special events and annual end-of-year appeals will help raise the other 50 percent, and for the first time, MMA has hired a full-time development officer who will be focused on raising funds.

MMA is in the process of launching a new membership campaign, which in addition to individual memberships will also focus on increasing corporate memberships.

“We are trying to figure out how we can help people understand that this museum, this institution, can help them in their business,” she said. “In other words, if you are a business that is looking for engineers or other kinds of college graduates, use us, do something here, have a meeting here, bring people here, because when people come into this museum, in this community, they leave thinking differently about Muskegon.”

She noted that while Muskegon’s reputation as a hardworking, blue-collar city is well known, its plethora of impressive arts and cultural offerings often are overlooked and should be used more widely in marketing the city to potential residents and workers.

“As we all try to sell Muskegon, I think this institution has a unique role that we can play,” Hayner said.

She would like to see membership increase by 50 percent. Currently, the MMA has approximately 1,000 memberships, which represents about 3,000 individuals and businesses. The capital campaign already has helped increase awareness of the museum and, coupled with a concerted effort to increase membership, Hayner thinks that goal can be reached in a couple of years.

“I think that the campaign has allowed us to elevate the awareness of the institution in a way that I don’t know that I anticipated,” she said. “It really has altered how the people engaged in the campaign think about the museum; we just have to now expand that to the greater region.”

While the first few years following the 2014 transition will be focused on reaching steady ground, Hayner said she expects to undertake an addition to the building in the next decade. That addition would allow the museum to meet its storage needs, provide educational space, and add one to two new galleries to display more of its permanent collection.

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