When a fire damaged part of the Fort Bend Museum in Richmond last year it left the burning question of how to rebuild the facility.
The answer will formally be presented to the public with a major announcement at the end of January. Members of the Sugar Land Rotary Club, however, got a preview last Wednesday when Fort Bend History Association Board President Tim Kaminski made a presentation to the civic organization. He said the Fort Bend History Association will launch a nearly $2 million fundraising campaign to renovate the museum.
“There’s been talk for years about renovating the museum, moving the museum, doing something else with it. But we decided it’s best to stay where we’re at, to stay on property. We are going into a major renovation campaign for the Fort Bend County Museum. With that, here’s what our future is going to look like,” he said, unveiling conceptual drawings of the revised facility.
“Going forward, the drawing is in a carriage house style, something that typically would have been on the property had there been a carriage house there to begin with. This first part is an addition onto it so we can have additional office space and then the part that is currently the exhibit hall, the whole building is going to be opened up. Not only are we going to be able to have exhibits there but we are going to be able to have indoor events for anywhere from 150 to 170 people,” he said.
The museum would not only be used to teach people local history, but an expanded facility will also allow the Fort Bend History Association to lease the building for special events.
“If we can run a secondary business, which is weddings and small corporate events and things like that, then we’re going to do that. And we think going in this direction is going to help us achieve that goal,” Kaminski said.
The goal he mentioned is creating financial stability for the organization.
“One of the plans for us was not just to raise money to rebuild this place but how do we make our organization sustainable over time? As anybody knows you don’t make it off your ticket sales and visitors, you make it from donations through charities and so forth,” he said.
For the history association, the project is very bold.
“We’re very excited, it’s a little scary, it’s more money than we’ve ever had to raise before,” Kaminski said.
He said he hopes the campaign will help raise awareness of the organization in the public. Founded more than 50 years ago as the Fort Bend County Museum Association, the organization changed its name and rebranded itself about two years ago. Kaminski said that was necessary because so many other museums have opened in the county that are not affiliated with them.
He also related the story of how his eyes were opened as to the scope of the association when he was asked to join the board several years ago. As a child, he visited the museum on a school field trip, but didn’t know much else about it.
As an adult he was very active in the community but was surprisingly naïve about local history.
“As I’ve discovered over the years, this organization has blossomed into having multiple locations with multiple items in its collection but nobody knew about it. As one of the most connected people in the county, if I didn’t know that, I knew the general public didn’t know that,” he said.
Claire Rogers, executive director of the FBHA, said the organization operates the Fort Bend Museum, George Ranch Historical Park, DeWalt Heritage Center, and Decker Park, and oversees the Fort Bend Archeological Association.
“Over 30,000 students come out to one of our sites each year. They come to learn history and we try to make it as hands-on and as interesting and interactive as we possibly can,” she said.
Recognizing that Fort Bend County is one of the most culturally diverse in the nation, the organization is striving to be more inclusive.
“In order for everybody to see themselves in this county museum the decision was made that we have got to diversify ourselves,” Kaminski said. “And now we have a very diversified board. Our programming is slated to represent and show how all the different cultures came into the county and at one point what were their contributions to the county? Those are stories that are going to be able to be told from today on forward.”
He said adding diversification to the organization and the museum is something that has been needed for a long time.
“Most of the collection that is shown there and most of the exhibits have been the same since 1972. Very little has changed when you walk in there,” Kaminski said. “Fortunately we did not lose any of the artifacts but the building was damaged to the point that one half of it had to be shut down, which is the office side. It has really limited our programming and what we’re able to do there.”
He said he hopes that the renovation and expansion will allow more of the association’s collection to be displayed.
“We have over 40,000 artifacts in the collection, many of which people have not seen before because we didn’t have the space. They’re housed at the Quonset hut out at George Ranch,” he said.
He told the Sugar Land Rotary Club members that they can get involved in a number of ways. He encourages membership in the association, participation in events, and he is also recruiting new board members.
For more information, visit www.fbhistory.org.