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Sedgwick County Historical Museum stepping up fundraising campaign

For the past three years, the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum has taken a fairly quiet, low-key approach to fundraising.

That’s about to change.

The museum is launching a $2 million fundraising campaign, aiming to meet its goal by the end of the year. So far, $1.5 million has been raised.

“With the downtown a few years ago, it got us to thinking about the sustainability of the museum and all the possibilities of what the museum ought to be to people in the community,” said Eric Cale, director of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum.

On Saturday, the museum will host a block party.

“It is not what you would call a capital campaign. It is not money for a new building,” Cale said. “It is more initiative fundraising. We are taking our mission and breaking it into components. In this way, we are trying to be more proactive and doing what we can to change our institutional culture. We used to be able to raise funds quietly, but now, a lot of the original museum supporters are no longer there to help us.”

The museum receives $90,000 in funding from Sedgwick County and $140,000 from the city of Wichita, roughly half of its nearly $500,000 budget. The rest of the funding comes from the museum’s endowment and visitor admission fees, Cale said.

The campaign, Cale said, will enhance the museum’s ability to provide education, improve collections and exhibits and add to its endowment.

“The downturn affected us profoundly,” he said. “Our revenues dropped by 20 percent, and in an organization like ours, when you suffer that kind of setback, the first thing affected is personnel. We were in a position of wanting to do more but having less.”

The museum’s mission is to “educate the community and its visitors about local history by collecting, preserving and interpreting materials reflecting the heritage of Wichita and Sedgwick County.”

The concept for the museum is nearly a century old. It began with the Pioneer Society in 1919. Twenty years later, the Wichita Public Museum opened in the Wichita Forum complex, near where Century II stands today.

It was moved in 1957 to College Hill to what was then known as the Cyrus M. Beachy family home at 3751 E. Douglas. The museum was relocated in 1980 to its now permanent location, Wichita’s original City Hall building at Main and William.

The museum houses more than 70,000 objects in its collections, Cale said. New exhibits will include a look at the local history through the visual arts. Museum officials also want to create a more youth-friendly environment through exhibits and workshops. It has also used the money to restore the 1890 mayor’s office on the building’s third floor.

“We want our museum to be here 100 years from now,” Cale said. “In order to do that, we need to save money now.”

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