Community to determine museum’s future May 12

Six years after Culver’s first-ever museum opened its doors, the Antiquarian and Historical Society of Culver is concerned those doors may close, which AHS leaders say would be a great loss not just to local history buffs, but to virtually all facets of the community and even beyond.

As many in the area are aware, the Center for Culver History, presently located in the lower level of the Culver-Union Twp. Public Library, will be forced to depart that space in approximately 18 months, following a decision by the library’s board of directors in October, 2010.

With that in mind, the AHS is hosting a “town hall” style meeting Saturday, May 12 at 10 a.m. at the Culver Elementary School gymnasium, which all community members are encouraged to attend; local organizations are encouraged to send representatives.

The meeting’s role as a full community discussion, says the AHS, is important since the existence of a museum chronicling, preserving, and sharing Culver’s history -- one of the more unique histories in Indiana and beyond -- is so important to the community as a whole.

“We want to get the community more involved in the operation of the museum and get their input into improvements as to how they can improve the museum,” says AHS president Jim Peterson.

Towards that end, one goal of the meeting is to hopefully establish a steering committee representing the various facets of the Culver community as a whole, with the specific focus of strengthening and improving the museum and giving increased voice to community members.
Helping lead the meeting will be Jeff Harris of the Indiana Historical Society, which AHS leaders feel is important on several levels. Harris has helped launch, direct, and revitalize historical organizations and museums around the state for many years, and brings invaluable expertise and knowledge to the table. His leadership is aimed to keep the meeting positive, focused, and professional.

The AHS, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, has spearheaded a number of projects in Culver, from the creation of Heritage Park and the replica 1895 lighthouse in the town park, to designating various areas on the National Register of Historic Places, in addition to a host of publishing and digitization projects.

The present museum evolved from several year’s collaboration with the library, and was formalized in 2006. As a result, the AHS’ extensive collection of Culver historical items was, for the first time, made available consistently to the public in the library building, where over 1,000 unique items relevent to Culver history are preserved. That’s something museum director Rachel Meade feels is especially important.

“For a small rural town, there is an incredible amount of enthusiasm for local history here,” says Meade. “So many seem to have a strong emotional connection with this place. They are drawn in by summers spent on the lake, pride for the Culver High School or Culver Academy, connection with the summer camp or local clubs and businesses or the beautiful landscape of the area.

“At the Center for Culver History,” she adds, “we try to provide a place to represent all the diverse facets of this area. We are the only organization to provide such a space to record the memories and life of the entire community. With the support of those who love Culver, we hope to continue doing so for years to come.”

“I think that the museum is a great asset to the community,” echoes Peterson, “but since we have to make some hard decisions as to the location of the museum, we’re taking this opportunity to get community input as to how we can improve the museum and make it more relevant to the community.”

Many in Culver recognize the uniqueness of the community’s makeup, from the many historical figures to associate with the area due to both Culver Academies and the rich history of Lake Maxinkuckee, to a number of “firsts” or unusual attributes, such as the first integreated high school basketball team in Indiana, the ice industry, the flourishing tourist and hotel era, the connection to the Titanic, and others. It seems a given to many that, if any Indiana community merits a community museum, it’s Culver.

Additionally, AHS leaders point to the value museums as a whole bring to communities, stressing that the notion that museums are simply for “history buffs” ignores the statistics on their power as a tourist draw, civic center, and important research center providing family histories and chronicling the timelines of local churches, clubs, organizations, businesses, public entities, and more.

In that sense, says the AHS, there are few individuals, groups, or entities whose existence isn’t impacted by the presence -- or absence -- of a museum and archive, to which they may go for research. preservation, and presentation.

There’s also the importance of the sense of civic value and investment museums provide to all ages, though perhaps most importantly to young people, something simply reading a book or website can’t replicate.
“Human interaction that provides a corporate experience,” stresses Tom Lidtke in his article, “Museums are a Souce of Wealth.” “physical interaction with exhibition objects provide(s) a multi-sensory experience that cannot be had sitting in solitude staring at an image on a 17’ compare (the Internet) to the reality of a museum visit is like comparing a picture of a strawberry to tasting a fresh, sweet and juicy strawberry.

Clearly, major underwriters such as the Marshall County Community Foundation agree. Besides providing $40,000 towards the $100,000-plus the AHS spent to renovate the historic space the museum now occupies at the library (among other grants to the AHS), Meade notes the MCCF just awarded funds to the AHS toward “several exciting projects, including increasing digitization of historic photographs and records, and production of a video documentary about Culver’s history. We would love to involve the broader community in these endeavors. “

As Peterson points out, “The future of the museum will be determined by the resources available to support it.”

Perhaps the most valuable of those resources is one AHS leaders hope to see on May 12: the people of the Culver community.