“In light of Town Council’s recent funding decision regarding the Chapel Hill Museum, it is with great sadness that the Museum’s Executive Board of Trustees announces that the venerable organization that has operated on the Town of Chapel Hill’s behalf since 1996 will be closing its doors. While thankful for Council’s gesture of support, funding offered does not come close to the very specific request the Museum made for the Town to assume responsibility for the up-keep and utilities of the Town-owned building housing the Museum at the cost of $34,250- or less than 1/10 of 1% of the Town’s annual budget.
The entire Museum community is grateful for the efforts of council member Laurin Easthom and others who worked so diligently to allow the Museum to continue to preserve and document the Town’s history. It was the Museum’s hope that having completed the Town’s twice annual measurable standards since 2006, provide open access to finances, and meet all requirements stated in the Museum’s lease with the Town, that the Museum’s funding request would be met as a first step in being absorbed by the Town.
The Museum’s birth, as a direct result of Chapel Hill’s bicentennial celebration in 1993, was proposed to Town officials with the goal of giving the Town a community resource that would conserve and present the Town’s rich and unique history. Elected officials and the Museum’s founders planned that the Museum would be made a Town entity in order to support revitalization of downtown and be an integral part of the Town’s focus on culture as a revenue generator.
Like many Museums across the US, the Chapel Hill Museum has been adversely affected by the recession and became paralyzed by the soaring costs of maintaining the Town’s building in which it resides. Long-time donors, foundations and sponsors desiring to support the Museum’s outstanding education programs and exhibits have balked at continuing to subsidize a Town- owned property. Holding ten to twelve high-end fundraisers per year, since the economy sagged, sapped staff and board alike, and while they allowed the Museum to stay open, they came at a great cost to regular Museum operations.
As the only organization to actively preserve and display significant historical milestones in Chapel Hill’s history, such as the desegregation of the town’s schools; the evolution of downtown; and the use of municipal history as a way to study the town’s growth over the last 200 + years, the Museum’s closing brings an end to an important community resource. Beyond essential documentation of the town’s past, the Museum’s award-winning education programs have served over 75,000 area school children with programming that assists local educators to meet state-mandated curricular criteria. It is the Museum’s desire that these programs will continue to be funded by their dedicated sponsors and all possible scenarios for their continuation are being explored and planned for.
The Chapel Hill Museum’s Board of Trustees, staff and hundreds of volunteers, have always shared the belief that you don’t know where you are going unless you know where you have been. To this end, we say thank you for allowing us to shed a light on Chapel Hill’s future while remembering its past and hope the Museum’s efforts to celebrate the character and characters of Chapel Hill not be forgotten.”