As I walked through a Rochester Historical Society exhibit of exquisite cold weather clothing recently, I was awed by the craftmanship of the pieces. Here was a collection consisting of velvet jackets with beaded mantles, wool capes, plush muffs and incredible hats trimmed with feathers, and yet the gallery was empty. Where were the visitors who should have been relishing the experience of seeing this historical attire in such a captivating display?
This is a common situation among small museums and historical societies. People are busier than ever. They are involved in charitable organizations, church groups and their children’s sports teams. Grandparents are also playing a bigger part in the lives of their grandchildren than ever before. Many individuals are just so busy, they don’t think to make time for something as “old-fashioned” as a visit to the local museum or to attending a program at a historical society. However, these museums and historical societies, most of which are non-profit organizations, subsist on memberships, small admittance fees and the occasional grants and donations. They need you to survive. They need your time and your money and they need you to know they still serve a valuable purpose.
There are many ways to donate to these worthwhile historical organizations. Historical societies have very reasonable annual membership fees, which can range from $5-$20 and up. Your membership allows these organizations to purchase artifacts for their collections and to pay honorariums to speakers who provide excellent programs on historical topics. Consider making a donation to a local historical society in memory of a loved one. Many societies have also benefited from bequests, and have attorneys on hand who can assist with this process. Grants can be a wonderful resource for small societies, but the process is complex, the competition is fierce and therefore it can be difficult to be awarded a grant.
Although the gift of money is always welcome, consider donating your time. At the Fairport Historical Museum in Fairport, New York, we have been fortunate to have many long-time volunteers who greet visitors, oversee gift shop sales and help out wherever needed. Many of these stalwart volunteers work just two hours a month at the museum. As time goes on and these veteran volunteers retire, fewer people are taking their places. It becomes more and more difficult to staff the museum. A few hours of your time a month makes all the difference between having a museum everyone can enjoy, and a building filled with historical treasures but devoid of people.
Think of your childhood memories, which included visits to local museums. Remember the childlike wonder as you beheld the treasures contained within its walls. Now ponder a future with no museums, no treasures, no magic. We must find a way to support these institutions for the sake of our children and grandchildren, and theirs after them. Without your support, these societies will cease to exist. Please consider a visit to your local museum, a membership to your local historical society or volunteer your time so you can be a steward of history.